Team captain Spencer Scott delivers his opening statement during the NorCal Mock Trial Invitational, Jan. 11-12 at Menlo School in Atherton. (Photo courtesy of Jennifer Scott)

Mock Trial team wins first round of county competition

The Mock Trial team beat Jesuit High School 492–388 on Jan. 22 at the Gordon D. Schaber Sacramento County Courthouse in the first round of the county competition.

This year’s case covers the murder trial of Bailey Matsumoto, the founder of a self-driving vehicle start-up who has been charged with the first-degree murder of Bailey’s spouse, Taylor. After the death of the couple’s son, Taylor became a staunch critic of autonomous vehicles.

While the defense argues that Taylor’s death was simply an accidental, alcohol-related drowning, the prosecution believes Bailey killed Taylor to prevent Taylor from campaigning against the company.

The pretrial aspect of the case revolves around the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. A key piece of evidence that incriminates Bailey — the details of the murder in a movie manuscript found in his office — was potentially unlawfully obtained.

While the detective was given permission to search Bailey’s house and garage, the detective obtained this evidence by entering a building unattached to the house. Though the defense argues that no consent was given to enter the office, the prosecution asserts that permission was given to search the entire property — which includes the office.

This year’s team captains are seniors Spencer Scott, Anu Krishnan and Héloïse Schep.

Before the official Mock Trial season began, the team was invited to the NorCal Mock Trial Invitational, an annual two-day tournament at Menlo School in Atherton. Country Day did not finish in the top eight of the 16 teams.

The tournament consists of five trials. Two opponents are predetermined, with the remaining three matches decided by the teams’ performance in the tournament.

According to Schep, one of the notable aspects of this tournament was the judging. Unlike previous scrimmages in which the judges were coaches of teams, the NorCal judges included college students and parents.

“A lot of these people were like, ‘I’ve had very limited experience with Mock Trial,’” Schep said. “They looked for some pretty interesting things — one of the judges said, ‘When the trials are going on, I just like to look at what the witnesses are doing in the background’ — that judges aren’t usually supposed to.”

Despite the unusual judging, Schep said the team gained valuable insight.

“It’s really nice to have someone from an outside perspective, such as the Stanford students being like, ‘Here’s what I could actually follow about what you were saying based on my limited knowledge, and here’s what I couldn’t follow,’” Schep said.

During her first county competition, courtroom clerk junior Hermione Xian looks over her timekeeping sheet. As clerk, Xian times all parts of the trial. (Photo by Sanjana Anand)

According to Scott, the lead attorney for the prosecution, one of this year’s difficulties was that the team has 10 new members. 

Krishnan agreed.

“We have a pretty young team — a lot of the members started out not knowing much about Mock Trial,” Krishnan said. 

Junior Keshav Anand, the prosecution’s expert witness, said many new members were nervous during scrimmages. As a result, he said many of them had lower scores than the more experienced team members.

However, coach Rick Lewkowitz said this issue has greatly improved.  

“Not so coincidentally, the team’s strengths — its energy, enthusiasm, collegiality and work ethic — have all combined to help mitigate that weakness,” said Lewkowitz.

“Not so coincidentally, the team’s strengths — its energy, enthusiasm, collegiality and work ethic — have all combined to help mitigate that weakness.”

— Rick Lewkowitz

Moreover, Lewkowitz and the captains agree that the new members have made great improvements since the beginning of the year.

“What impressed me the most was their quiet confidence throughout (their first match against Jesuit), Lewkowitz said. “There were no signs of typical first-round nervousness.”

Before the county tournament, the team participated in many scrimmages and tournaments. According to Lewkowitz, each competition has helped the team improve. 

As a result, Lewkowitz said the team is well prepared for the rest of the season.

Junior Sarina Rye, who plays the defendant, cited speaking exercises as a great help to the team. 

According to Lewkowitz, an additional area of improvement that the coaches are focusing on is building each team member’s confidence because “many are still not always believers in how good they already are.”

While last year’s team was unable to repeat as the county champion and advance to state, Schep said she’s optimistic about the team’s chances this year.

“We have (the) spirit to win again,” said Schep. “Last year was difficult because we were following a county win, and we weren’t sure how to continue that.”

Schep said there’s less pressure on the team this year.

“We’ve learned from last year, and we’ve had so much awesome experience this year, especially (at) NorCal,” Schep said. “We have a big team this year, a lot of talented people — especially the new people — and we really want to win.”

The defense team beat River City High School 449–386 on Feb. 6 at the Gordon D. Schaber Sacramento County Courthouse. Check back later for a story about the Cavs’ recent victory.

—By David Situ

Originally published in the Feb. 4 edition of the Octagon.