California High School's mock trial team represented Contra Costa County at the state competition this weekend, following a win at the county level last month that marked the sixth in a row for the high school's team.
The team beat out their fellow finalists from Campolindo High School in Moraga during the county competition's final trial on Feb. 13 to earn first place, and are currently competing in the state finals in Los Angeles, which kicked off Friday (March 17).
"The finals trials were so exciting to watch. I was impressed by the preparation of the students as I watched the schools face off in the courtroom," said Lynn Mackey, Contra Costa County superintendent of schools in a statement on Feb. 16.
The team's win and current participation in the state competition come in the wake of months of practice and instruction, according to coach Brian Barr.
"We receive our case in early September and then spend the next five months preparing it for the county competition, which is in late January and early February," Barr said. "This year's case is People v. Jordan Franks, who is accused of robbery and battery causing serious bodily injury."
The county competition runs over the course of four weeks, Barr said, with teams from 18 schools participating in four preliminary trials ahead of the quarterfinal, semifinal and final rounds.
In addition to having Barr as their teacher coach, the team works with two attorney coaches including Larry Lowe, who's worked with the team for a decade since his daughter participated in the competition as a student. Ken Mifsud, an assistant district attorney in Alameda County, has worked with the team for eight years, also since his daughters were on the team while attending Cal High.
"The students who work with Larry learn how to argue a motion before the court and support it with real case law, including some Supreme Court cases," Barr said. "This year's motion addressed consent and if it was lawfully given or if the defendant, Franks, was coerced into giving consent by a detective who ultimately was given access to a locked safe in her cabin aboard a cruise ship."
The motion brought forward by the defense, Barr said, is an effort to get the note excluded from trial, with the prosecution's argument being that it was obtained under lawful circumstances and should be allowed for use in trial.
"The note can be important because it can help the prosecution develop Franks' motive," Barr said. "Franks, who is an actor performing on a cruise ship show called Macbeth at Sea, allegedly was jealous of a fellow actor and cabin mate Billy Scher, so Franks stole Scher's ring that supposedly was once owned by William Shakespeare and broke Scher's arm in the process of the robbery. It's a pretty fun case."
With the two attorney coaches focused on teaching the team the ins and outs of the trial process and relative legal practices, Barr's role as teacher coach has him on the ground overseeing the rest of their needs.
"As the teacher-coach, I oversee and coordinate everything and work with the students on their preparations and presentations on a regular basis since the class meets every other day," Barr said. "That's the most rewarding part of teaching the class. I'm fortunate that I get to work with students who are among the hardest working and most dedicated on campus. They sacrifice a lot of weekends and after school time preparing their roles to help the team succeed."
In addition to winning the main title at the county level, two Cal High students were named as outstanding courtroom journalists. Rojan Haghnegahdar took first place with Shivani Phadnis coming in third. Barr, who also serves as the school's student newspaper adviser, is front and center in encouraging and preparing students for that competition as well.
"For the courtroom journalist competition, any student can participate in this role, so I try to encourage my editors and reporters to participate," Barr said. "This year we had about 10 courtroom journalists and even a few courtroom artists. For the courtroom journalist role, we review the types of information they should include in the story, developing a clear angle for their story, and how to clearly organize their story. They've already learned the inverted pyramid in my newspaper class, so I just review how to follow that while covering a trial."
The current state competition in Los Angeles runs for four rounds, the first of which kicked off Friday evening. The next three are set for Saturday (March 18), with the final round and awards ceremony set for Sunday (March 19).
"The accomplishment of this year's Cal High Mock Trial Team, winning the county championship for the 6th year in a row, is truly remarkable," Cal High principal Demetrius Bell said. "These students represent what being a Grizzly is all about -- students who are passionate, determined and focused."
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