Some deft lawyering has propelled Woodbridge High School’s mock trial team all the way to this month’s state championship.
Having bested more than 35 other local teams in December, the legal eagles of Woodbridge will represent all of Orange County at the Constitutional Rights Foundation’s 31st Annual California Mock Trial Finals, which will be held March 23 through March 25 in Sacramento.
“I feel like we have a good chance to go all the way,” said senior Jonathan Gumz, who shares team captain duties with Elva Bonsall and Frances Biemann. “This is the third time I’ve gone to the state competition, and this is probably the best team I’ve been on in three years of mock trial.”
With contests at the county, state and national levels, mock trial teams compete by presenting hypothetical criminal cases in front of real judges in actual courtrooms. Students are assessed on how well they perform as attorneys, witnesses, bailiffs, clerks, journalists and even courtroom artists.
Contests generally center on one fictitious case per year, and this year it’s the made-up People v. Buschell.
As the story goes, Ryan Buschell of Emerald City is charged with murdering friend and fellow Wheeler University student Becca Abeles after a falling out led her to produce evidence that Ryan had violated the university’s strict honor code. Prosecutors argue that an inheritance of $20 million was at stake for Ryan, who is connected to the homicide through evidence found at the crime scene. The defense claims Ryan and Becca have been friends since childhood and had resolved their disagreement.
Anyway, if Ryan wasn’t in enough trouble, he’s also charged with violating the California Concealed Carry Statute. A weighty pretrial issue looks at whether restrictions on toting concealed firearms violate Ryan’s Second Amendment right.
With every case, there’s a mountain of evidence, testimony and court rulings to pore over beforehand. Gumz said the Woodbridge team typically practices 15 to 20 hours a week during the season, and the actual courtroom clashes can get intense.
“It’s also a lot of fun,” he added. “In every trial there’s a witness who will say something weird or an attorney who asks a weird question. As intense as it gets, there’s always that funny moment.”
The Mock Trial program is coordinated by Constitutional Rights Foundation, a non-profit, non-partisan educational foundation that has developed a number of law and business-related educational programs.
Woodbridge has now won the county championship eight times and made it to the county finals 11 of the last 15 years.