Mock trial team steps up in a challenging year
Mock trial team steps up in a challenging year

Santa Catalina's mock trial team finished the 2017-18 season with two awards and a big sense of accomplishment after what turned out to be a challenging year.

Erika Schwerdfeger '19 won an award for Outstanding Defense Attorney and Olivia Gebreamlak '19 won Outstanding Defense Witness in the Monterey County Mock Trial competition, which was held on four days between January 31 and February 10 at the Monterey Courthouse. Twenty students participated this year in a case in which a political activist was accused of the premeditated murder of a rival activist.

Erika and her fellow co-captain Alyssa Kwon '18 both said the team had a tall order in going through the season without an attorney coach; one of last year's coaches, a deputy district attorney, was unable to help this year because he began working on a high-profile murder trial. Normally, attorney coaches help students with the ins and outs of case law and trial procedure. This time, the students—under the guidance of Dr. Doug Lumsden, the history teacher who founded the team and who serves as mentor and coach—ably filled in the void. "It took a lot of extra research and preparation to gain the kind of understanding of the case that an attorney coach could provide," Erika said. Dr. Lumsden was essential to helping the team rise to the challenge. "His passion for mock trial kept the team together," Alyssa said. "He led us through the difficulties."

Dr. Lumsden's guidance extended well beyond the attorney coach gap. Erika said the team especially values how involved he is through every aspect of the case, whether challenging them with difficult objections, holding extra meetings for the unique role of pretrial motion attorneys, or devoting attention to even minor witness testimony. "Besides teaching me virtually everything I know about case law and conducting a trial, I've learned even more from the example that he's set for our team—about persistence despite challenges, optimism in the face of adversity, and the importance of supporting each other, all qualities that he's demonstrated and that I've come to realize are essential to good leadership," she said. Added Alyssa: "Without him, the team wouldn't be here in the first place."

In the end, the team actually performed better than last year, finishing with a 1-3 record. Their win came against Stevenson School.

They learned several lessons along the way. For Erika, it was the importance of adaptation. She has played a defense attorney in all three years she has participated in mock trial. "In conducting a trial, opposing counsel will constantly surprise you, sometimes by choosing to emphasize different elements of the case than you had anticipated or even by pointing out things you'd missed entirely," she said. "In the case of attorneys, especially, team members always have to be alert and ready to respond to anything. Protecting your witnesses when they're confronted with unexpected lines of questioning on the stand, making objections to opposing counsel, and formulating responses to their objections are all things that cannot be scripted beforehand—it all has to come from your case knowledge and your ability to think in real time."

For Alyssa, a four-year member of the team who started with a minor role as a freshman and competed this year as a prosecution attorney, this year's most valuable lesson was the strength that comes through teamwork. "This year, as a team, I believe we learned that we can do anything if we work together and push through hardships," she said.

Erika echoed that sentiment. "I'm constantly impressed by their dedication and commitment—Alyssa and I know how much work goes into preparing for competition!" she said. "This year was especially challenging, and I was so impressed at how each of our members dealt capably with the difficulties they encountered along the way."

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