Mock trial team wins sixth straight title


Photo courtesy of Brian Barr

Cal High’s mock trial defense team stands on the steps of the County Superior Court in Martinez. The defense team won the finals against Campolindo High School on Feb. 13.

Cal High’s mock trial team was victorious again last month when it won a record breaking sixth straight Contra Costa County championship.
The team won its ninth title in the past 13 years and 12th overall, tying for the most championships in county history.
Cal’s defense team defeated Campolindo on Feb. 13 in the championship to finish a perfect 7-0 in county. The team now heads to Los Angeles this week for the Constitutional Rights Foundation’s 42nd annual State Mock Trial Championships.
The three-day event, which starts Friday and features 32 schools, will be in person for the first time since 2019. The event was on Zoom the past two years and was canceled in 2020 because of COVID.
“The competition is a challenge for us every year,” senior team captain and prosecution lead attorney Arpita Gupta said. “But we really stepped up and met the challenge, which was shown by our win.”
Prior to this year, the county mock trial competition was hosted on Zoom because superior court facilities in Martinez were closed because of online for three years due to COVID-19 procedures. This year was the first year that the competition was held in-person at the Martinez courthouse since the start of the pandemic.
Sophomore Kaylen Hoang, a defense attorney for the team, recalls competitions from previous years online were much different from the in-person experience.

“[Online] the stakes were definitely lower,” Hoang said. “It didn’t feel as real as when you’re competing in person. In a courtroom, you definitely have to perform more and really convince the judges of what you’re doing.”

Cal’s triumph this year was preceded by many intense rounds before the finals. Senior Taliya Peiris is a witness who played Ari Kouch, a jewelry appraiser, in the mock trial. She recalled the nervous energy surrounding the team before and after each trial.

“When we started we were really nervous,” Peiris said. “But as soon as we got into the swing of things, we felt a lot more confident with ourselves and our ability to face other teams. “

Cal’s team is coached by two former law attorneys: Ken Mifsud and Larry Lowe. Mifsud was a district attorney for the Alameda County Attorney’s Office before retirement and Lowe was a former attorney for Apple Inc. and Tesla.

“We were elated to win this year,” Mifsud said. “It’s an amazing streak, and it’s the first time any school in our district has won for six straight years. And we’re also now tied with Miramonte High School for the most wins in the history of the competition.”

Usually, a mock trial process starts with a pretrial portion, which involves a constitutional issue, such as failure to give a Miranda Warnings for a search with a warrant. Miranda Warning is a law procedure taken during an arrest, in which an arrestee is informed that they have specific court rights in a case. The pretrial motion this year was whether consent was given by the defendant for a detective to search their locked safe.

The criminal trial comes after the pretrial, and involves an accused individual who is on trial for being accused of committing a crime. The prosecutors of a mock trial try to convict the accused, while the defense tries to persuade the court that their client is innocent.

Both sides of the trial can cross examine each other’s arguments and ask the witnesses questions. Witnesses are people who have seen the accused crime that are called up for questioning in court.

“Each trial is scored by a minimum of three former attorneys,” Lowe said. “And they’re judged on the basis of their performance. Every teammate’s points are added together for a total team score, which is compared with the others.”

According to junior Ryan Lunn, a witness who played Erza Weintraub, the head of security of the ship at the trial, Cal’s consecutive successes can not only be tied to the students, but the coaches as well.

“You can’t ignore the quality of students in the team,” Lunn said. “But I would say a lot of our success is also due to our coaches, Mr. Barr, Mr. Mifsud and Mr. Lowe, the latter two of whom take the time out of their days to come in and teach us and work with our case.”

Senior and mock trial team captain Simi Shetty added that Cal’s mindset and dedication differentiates them from other schools.

“I think it’s the passion that everyone in the class has to win,” Shetty said. “We’re just always excited and ready every day to spend time with each other and put in the work required for it.”

But as talented as the team is, improvements can still be made.

“We have the substance and the facts down, but there’s always room for improvement on performance,” Lowe said. “Such as how to have witnesses and attorneys address the court in the most effective way.”

Sophomore Billy Piggott, a pretrial defense attorney for the team, agrees with Lowe and adds that the team is tweaking some trial content as well.

“One of the main things that we’re working on right now is cutting some stuff down,” Piggott said. “Our examinations can drag and get a bit long, so we’re just trying to focus on shortening that to really pull out the performance aspect.”

Now that Cal has secured its county win, the team is excited to get another chance at the state competition. In Los Angeles, they will be going against 37 other county teams for the state champion title.

“I’m excited to go to LA with my team,” mock trial team captain and junior Avery Cross said. “We’re going to see some really good competition, and I think it’s going to be a great learning experience.”

Regarding next year’s mock trial team, Mifsud says he has high hopes that next year’s team will be able to do just as well, if not better, than this year’s group.

“I think the nice thing is we’ve got a lot of students coming back next year who were from this year’s team,” Mifsud said. “We’ve got a strong team coming back who were pretty much the stars this year, so I’m excited about our chances for next year.”