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Local mock trial team competes in nationals this weekend

May 9th, 2013 8:01 am by Carmen Musick

Local mock trial team competes in nationals this weekend

The KACHEA mock trial team won the state championship and is competing in the nationals May 9-11 in Indianapolis, Ind.

A team from the Tri-Cities has made final preparations for what promises to be the biggest challenge it’s faced so far. On Friday, the team members will walk into an Indianapolis, Ind., courtroom to argue a case that could earn them a national title.

The Kingsport Area Christian Home Education Association (KACHEA) mock trial team, under the guidance of attorney David Greene, is representing Tennessee at the 2013 National High School Mock Trial Championship being held May 9-11 in the city-county building in Indianapolis.

“I expect that the competition at the national level will be fierce,” said senior Elizabeth Saulsbury.

“We are working on the case every day in order to be prepared for the competition. ... I try to practice my opening and closing speeches several times each day in order to have them ready for the competition,” she said.

The KACHEA team earned a chance to try a case in the national spotlight by besting the fields at both the district and state levels.

Three short years ago, the KACHEA mock trial team had never made it out of the district. Once they managed to breach that level, however, team member Grace Gerlock says, “it changed everything.”

“We were all very impressed with the much larger courtrooms, the organization of teams, the activities setup for us, and the overall experience of being with teams from all over the state. It was, and is, amazing to represent our district! I expect the national competition to feel the same way, except on a much larger scale. To represent the state of Tennessee at a national level will be very exciting, challenging, and rewarding,” Grace said.

Through their involvement with mock trial, the team of students has learned about both criminal and civil law — having tried murder cases, personal injury lawsuits, and blackmail and wire fraud prosecutions, just to name a few. They’ve learned about entrapment law, the insanity defense, public speaking, and much more.

Currently, however, the team is singularly focused on one case: the one that could bring a national championship back to the Tri-Cities.

“We’re in the heat of things right now trying to get this case together,” said Philip Bunn, a senior attorney for the team. Voted the MVP by his teammates, Philip has already earned the Forensic Leadership Scholarship from Patrick Henry College for his participation and leadership in mock trial.

“I became interested in law through my participation in mock trial, and where before I had no plans for anything law-related, I am now planning on earning my bachelor’s degree in government with a track in American politics and policy, with law school to follow,” Philip said. “I hope to earn my law degree and focus on constitutional law, and hopefully get involved in the political arena at some point.”

For now, though, he and his teammates have one more case to try — one that will test everything they’ve learned so far and more.

“The national-level cases are very complex factually and legally. Basically, the witness affidavits are longer than any we have encountered before (about 10 pages long apiece), and there are some legal issues to deal with that are unfamiliar to most of us, like the idea of ‘comparative negligence’ in a civil lawsuit,” Philip said.

The national case centers around a propane tank explosion in a theater. The theater owner is suing the propane tank company for damages.

From the time the case was released in early April until the time they left for Indianapolis, the team met at least twice a week for practice, with most of them studying and memorizing material and running examinations over the phone in between.

“We have much more material to learn for the nationals case, and much less time to learn it,” Grace said. “In a Tennessee case, a standard witness would have four or five pages of affidavit to thoroughly understand in three months; whereas, a nationals witness must do the same with between seven and 10 pages in six weeks.”

Because teams at the national event come from throughout the country and from hosts of backgrounds and ways of life, Grace said that the team “cannot possibly anticipate every argument that we will face.”

“The way a case is presented and what material is highlighted changes, depending on the team’s style. No two trials are ever the same,” she stressed.

To help them get ready, the KACHEA team actually set up scrimmages with other state champions.

“We’re hoping that running the case through in a simulated competition environment will help us better understand the case and how to present it. We want to represent our state well at the national competition, so we’re all applying ourselves to learn this case well,” Philip said.

“There is a lot for everyone to memorize,” Elizabeth said. “I am happy that my two witnesses, Rosa Coletti and my younger brother, Matt, will be up to the challenge. They are superb mockers and will handle the added responsibility well.”

Elizabeth is the only member of the team who has done mock trial all four years of high school. She has won multiple awards, including best advocate at state, for her performance as an attorney. She plans to attend East Tennessee State University in the fall, majoring in public relations, and to attend law school after that, with the hopes of someday working in the district attorney’s office.

“My family has been involved in mock trial for many years, as my two older brothers, Will and Joe, participated and both won awards as attorneys,” Elizabeth said.  “Mock trial has been instrumental in teaching me about the judicial system and has helped me develop my public speaking skills.”

Matt Saulsbury, a sophomore, has been on the mock trial team for two years, but has watched many more competitions through the years in which  his older siblings have participated. “The case at the national level is difficult, but I think we will enjoy the challenge,” Matt said. “It will also be fun to meet students from other areas of the country.”

All of the students say much of the credit for their success can be attributed to their coach. “We couldn’t do it without the help of our attorney coach, David Greene. He is really committed to helping us be the best team we can be. His leadership has been invaluable, and we’ve learned so much with his help,” Philip said.

Registration and final practices for the national competition were slated for Wednesday and Thursday. The first two rounds of competition will be held Friday, followed by the third and fourth rounds, and ultimately the championship round on Saturday.

To learn more about the event, visit www.inmocktrial.org and then click on the 2013 National link.

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