Veritas Prep Mock Trial

Back row: Britney Sweiss, Sam Espinosa, Vivian Tork, Corynn Gates, Claire Harris, Jacob Ladner, Hudson Grove, Jake Hirsch and Sabra Ahmed. Front row: Kiera Lentz, Lauren Mukavitz and Anna Schillinger.

In March, Veritas Prep’s two mock trial teams placed 3rd and 7th at the Maricopa County Regional Tournament, held at the Maricopa County Superior Court Building.

This extracurricular activity was established in the 1980s and is open to high school students around the state. Mock trial programs are co-sponsored by the Arizona Foundation for Legal Services and Education and the Young Lawyers Division of the State Bar, with 120-150 Arizona schools participating each year.

“Every mock trial team gets the same case,” said Veritas Coach Bill Gates, “which is a lawsuit created and written by lawyers. Just like a real legal case, this one includes a fact pattern, witness statements and exhibits.”

This year’s case was a murder trial involving two men who owned a restaurant. One owner was a gambler accused of embezzling money from the business to repay his loan shark. Following an audit, his partner was charged with pushing him into the restaurant’s industrial freezer, where he died. The defense argued that the loan shark committed the murder.

“The case can be either criminal or civil, and many times, they’ve taken on hot-button issues like hate crimes,” said Gates, who is also an in-house lawyer for PING Golf.

Each mock trial team is composed of six to eight students who serve as both lawyers and witnesses. Since the teams don’t know until the day of competition which side they will be arguing, they prepare to play both prosecution and defense by practicing three days a week for two hours at a time.

“The entire process is a great opportunity for the participants to hone vital skills like critical thinking, research and public speaking,” Gates said. “Quite often, the real judges who preside over the trials comment that the student presentations are as good, if not better than some of the lawyers who appear in front of them.”

“I felt privileged to be part of the Veritas Mock Trial team, due to the exceptional, dedicated and experienced coaches who have expanded my interests in law and public speaking,” said freshman Sabra Ahmed, who was named to the All Region Team. “This experience improved my critical thinking skills and pushed me to think more creatively. With every practice, we grew stronger as a team, and the goal we set out to achieve aligned us even further.”

Veritas’s third-place team qualified for the state tournament, which was unfortunately canceled.

“This was the third year in a row that Veritas qualified for the state tournament,” Gates said, “and since only 16 teams make it to that level, that’s a great accomplishment for our students.”

“The cancelation of the state tournament ended my last season on the team,” said senior Vivian Tork, who was named outstanding performer at regionals. “It’s strange to think my closing in the final round at regionals was the last thing I’d ever do in high school mock trial, but I’m satisfied that my team left everything in the courtroom during what would turn out to be my last round ever.”