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Mock Trial team prepares for national championship tournament

BY EMILY MELVOLD | MARCH 6, 2009 7:22 AM

Kristin Langhammer is not really a death investigator. Travis Wilkening is not a real expert witness. And Alex Whitt is not a real lawyer. But every night, these UI students practice playing their courtroom roles as members of the UI Mock Trial team.

With the national championship tournament in April quickly approaching, the team is spending three to four hours each evening writing scripts, rehearsing lines, and perfecting acting skills.

“We want to make it to the national championship tournament and win the whole thing,” Mock Trial board member Kaitlyn Evans said.

The student-run group participates in courtroom competitions around the country. Teams typically consist of three attorneys and three witnesses, trained to argue for either the prosecution or defense. Each team performs twice for judges, presenting both sides in two different trials, which last between three to four hours.

Judges critique teams on a range of criteria, including opening statements for the plaintiff and defense, each of the witnesses’ testimony, direct and cross-examination by attorneys, and the closing statements for both sides. Teams can win the competition without winning the case.

“Mock Trial teaches you how to think about the law, but a big part of the competition is acting. You can’t be afraid to talk in front of people,” sophomore team member Langhammer said. “People that don’t know anything about the law can join the team.”

The UI organization took four teams to the regional competitions and succeeded in qualifying two teams — the maximum number of teams a school can send — for the prenationals tournament set to be held March 13 to 15.

After prenationals, the national tournament will be held in Des Moines in April. While the UI team has placed in the top five many years, the last time they won a national championship title, they did it back to back in 2002 and 2003, Evans said.

“Our team has a really good shot at winning it all,” Evans said. “I think we’re even better this year than the last few years.”

Cases for the trials are provided to all of the teams via the American Mock Trial Association. This year the association chose a defamation case involving a broadcast reporter and a politician.

The national association makes slight changes to the case between tournaments to keep the trials fresh and different. The association provides guidelines on applicable law for the case, witness statements, and evidence. The most recent changes were the addition and deleting of a few witnesses.

On top of preparing for the competitions, the roughly 40-student membership has to make their own travel arrangements and pay for trips to places like New York City, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles.

“Mock Trial is very addictive,” Langhammer said. “Once you start and get to hang out with the people in the group, you just don’t want to stop.”


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