This year’s USD American Associate for Justice (“AAJ”) Spring Mock Trial Tournament was not only popular, it was also extremely competitive. The twenty-four team spots available filled up well before the final sign-up date as eager students were ready to battle it out in the courtroom.
The tournament, which was open to all law students, is one of the two intramural mock trial tournaments that AAJ hosts each year. The fall semester’s tournament was a civil trial, while this semester’s tournament was a criminal trial involving the kidnapping and felony murder of a teenage girl.
Teams of students were assigned to the prosecution or the defense and were given two weeks to read through the closed case file, practice their opening and closing statements, and prepare their witnesses.
Commenting on the success of the tournament, Christina Wong, this year’s AAJ president, said, “This year we had an unprecedented amount of students interested in participating. My board and I found it extremely encouraging that so many students of all levels were interested in competing and testing out their trial skills.”
Family and friends came out to the San Diego Superior Court on Saturday, March 26 to watch this “whodunit” trial unfold. Twenty-two San Diego attorneys graciously volunteered their time to act as judges, and the students, many of whom were 1Ls with just one week’s training in evidence, were ready to impeach witnesses and deliver case-winning closing statements.
“It was really cool for 1Ls to get to compete in an actual mock trial competition and be in a courtroom,” said Lisa Charukul, a 1L competing for the first time.
Charukul’s team member, Patrick Raue, agreed. “It was an enlightening experience; I learned so much.”
Charukul and Raue, attorneys for the prosecution, were one of the two teams to make it to the final held on Sunday, March 27 in USD’s Grace Courtroom. They were competing against fellow Section C classmates Abigail Dillon and Michael John Espana Reilly.
These two teams had faced each other before; however, they competed against each other in the last round during the match-ups on Saturday. Both teams agreed that having already seen each other’s arguments made the championship round much more difficult.
“We were definitely not looking forward to going up against them again,” said Reilly. “The first round was like a heavyweight fight. We knew [the championship round] would be pretty intense.”
The final was extremely close. Both teams fought to keep their evidence in or to get other evidence thrown out, and each conducted exciting cross-examinations of each other’s witnesses.
“The passion was really fun,” said Raue. “Emotions for this murder case ran high; everyone got really into it.”
After Charukul and Reilly delivered their impassioned closing statements for their respective sides, the judge, attorney Charles T. Marshall, called for a brief recess so that he could tally up the points.
A long twenty minutes passed before teams and audience members were invited back into the courtroom to hear the results.
“I was very impressed by all four of you today,” said Judge Marshall. “You really did a great job.”
He then announced Abigail Dillon and Michael Reilly the winners of this spring’s AAJ mock trial tournament, but confessed it was extremely close.
“The scores were off by only one point,” said Judge Marshall.
Charukul, Dillon, Raue, and Reilly were all recruited to join USD’s National Trial Team, along with four other 1L students and four 2L students.
Wong, also a member of USD’s National Trial Team, was impressed by the four students who competed in the final.
“They did an outstanding job. Each of them demonstrated real raw talent in the courtroom, and it was an absolute pleasure to watch these two very skilled teams compete in the final round,” said Wong.
Reilly, who also won the award for best overall advocate, said that he really enjoyed the experience: “It was a lot of fun. It was great to see our hard work pay off.”
Wong recommends that everyone who wants to try out trial work compete in these tournaments next year: “I strongly encourage all students to compete in future AAJ competitions because it’s an opportunity for students to see what it’s like to get inside a courtroom, conduct a trial, and advocate for a client. Trial work isn’t for everyone, but for some people, once they step foot in a courtroom, they discover that they have a real passion for trial advocacy.”
Congratulations to those who made it onto USD’s National Trial Team and to those who participated in this year’s AAJ mock trial tournaments!