Saints Mock Trial Team Approaches the Bench at State Competition
Saints Mock Trial Team Approaches the Bench at State Competition
Dan O'Connell

If you had been a passenger in one of the vans carrying St. Andrew's Mock Trial Team to the Delaware High School Mock Trial Competition last Friday morning, you would have felt like you were listening to a dozen radios tuned to different stations. Each team member was simultaneously reciting his or her part in preparation for trial later that morning.

Their case involved a high school student who had developed and sold a smartphone app to an investment company. The issue at hand: after the app had been on the market for a while, it was discovered that it included a backdoor feature that enabled high school students to cheat on electronically-administered tests. iTunes removed the app from its App Store, leaving the investment company with a useless product, for which they had paid $500,000. The investors claimed that the student knew about the cheating feature and kept it a secret, with the primary investor claiming he had been defrauded, and requesting a full refund of his investment.

En route to the New Castle County Courthouse in Wilmington, we learned that our plaintiff team would perform in Round One of the two-day competition, against defendant Newark High School.

Stella Zhou '18 was the first to address the jury. Standing with poise and speaking with confidence and well-timed changes in volume, Stella captured and held the jury's interest throughout her opening statement. She explained how her client, an investor (played by Xander Atalay '19), had been defrauded by a high school student, arguing that the app, intended for use in schools, was effectively rendered worthless when word spread of a cheating function hidden in its code. Xander, who gave an impassioned performance and put a sympathetic human face on fraud trial,
was guided in his direct examination by rookie attorney Iris Huang '20. The defense attempted to prove Xander had been hasty and careless in his pre-investment research. During this portion of cross examination, Iris had to think on her feet to argue against the admissibility of evidence St. Andrew's plaintiffs had not expected.

Guided by plaintiff's attorney Daniel Jang '17 (seen here rehearsing earlier in the week), Spencer Johnson '20 played a former friend of the defendant, and relayed the story of fraud from the perspective of a high school student. Spencer offered critical evidence that directly implicated the defendant as the one who added the cheating feature to the app, while simultaneously deflected criticism of his own involvement.

Abigail Tarburton '18, playing a computer expert, was the last of the plaintiff's witnesses. With Stella conducting her direct examination, Abbi gave a witness performance that earned her the Most Effective Witness Award for Round One. The defendants tried to describe her as a "hacker", but Abigail repeatedly resisted this characterization and instead presented herself as a crusader dedicated to truth and transparency. When asked whether Xander's character should have detected the cheating feature earlier, Abigail found the perfect balance between admitting too much and not admitting enough, which might have ruined her credibility.

Finally, Daniel had the most challenging attorney role of the morning. In his closing argument, he had only five minutes to summarize a two hour-long trial, involving six witnesses who gave conflicting testimony about a convoluted timeline. He was both forceful and spontaneous in his closing statement and won the Most Effective Attorney award.

In the afternoon, the Saints shifted to play the defense, and continued their award-wining streak. Will Imbrie-Moore '17 won the Most Effective Attorney Award and Santiago Brunet '18 was awarded Most Effective Witness. St. Andrew's faced a prosecution mounted by Red Lion Christian Academy. Ben Horgan '19 began the trial by delivering a carefully structured opening statement with clarity and forceful conviction. Carson McCoy '19 played the part of the high school student accused of defrauding investors with his app. However, with the help of his attorneys, Carson argued that he was as unaware of the cheating as the investors were. Bilal Morsi '19 played another investor and strengthened Carson's case by testifying to the quality of the app and casting suspicion on another student. When Santiago took the stand, he told his story from the perspective of the teacher who oversaw the project. In addition to contributing crucial evidence, Santiago entertained the courtroom with his portrayal of a witness who was as likely to speak of life lessons learned from the Dali Lama as he was to explain the intricacies of coding. On cross examination, Santiago was unshakable. He knew the facts extremely well and never missed an opportunity to shade their meaning in favor of the defendant.

Defense attorney Camille Strand '20 examined witnesses with tremendous focus. Because she was so knowledgeable about the facts of the case she moved between topics with dizzying speed on cross-examination. When she got an unfavorable ruling on the admissibility of her first exhibit, Camille was totally unfased and forced the plaintiff to admit that he had been foolish to trust a high school student. When the witness was initially resistant, Camille did not hesitate. It was clear she was not going to sit back down until she got the evidence she needed from her witnesses.

The genius of Will Imbrie-Moore's closing for the defense was the way it narrowed the jury's focus down to just two essential points. By explaining the law so clearly, and by advocating for the defendant to zealously, Will ended Round Two on a very high note. No doubt his Most Effective Attorney Award also reflected Will's frequent and proper use of the rules of evidence. He challenged the admissibility of perhaps half the questions asked by his opponent.

After such strong showings in the first and second round of the tournament, the Saints expected to be matched against some of the strongest teams on Saturday. Round Three pitted the Saints against an excellent plaintiff team from Archmere. In this round Santiago again took home the Most Effective Witness award, which would prove to be the last of our awards. The defense team from Newark Charter was St. Andrew's last and strongest opponent—a sign of the Saints' team success in this power-matched tournament. One of the highlights of Round Four was the enormous growth exhibited by Iris Huang '20. Iris shifted from presenting the case as rehearsed, to actively responding during direct and cross-examinations and to numerous challenges to admissibility. She argued with great insight and instinct and stood up to some very experienced and aggressive opponents.

Iris had wonderful role models in Daniel and Stella. At one point Stella argued against a hearsay objection by demonstrating encyclopedic understanding of this complex rule. She offered this argument even after the judge announced to the court that he was ready to rule on this objection, and he did rule—against Stella. However, after hearing her long and complex reasons why this evidence ought to be admitted, shockingly, the judge reversed himself and allowed the evidence. (You don't see that very often!) Likewise, Daniel cross-examined his witnesses with unrelenting and pinpoint focus.

At the end of Round Four, teammates departed for Spring Break via planes, trains and automobiles, while Xander headed for the water—the state championship swim meet in Newark, that is.

St. Andrew's Mock Trial Team is very grateful for the support we had from parents, godparents, grandparents and friends, including SAS Mock Trial alumna Adrienne Fernandez '11, who now works as a Judicial Case Manager for the Superior Court of Delaware in the Wilmington courthouse she first discovered as a student-attorney. Thanks also to Heidi Rowe, Will Speers, and Gretchen Hagenbuch for their support.