The evidence is in
Kennesaw State mock-trial team follows outstanding regional performance with strong show at national competition
Eight members of Kennesaw State’s mock-trial team returned victorious from national competition in Washington, D.C. April 12-14, one of two teams to garner 12th place at the American Mock Trial Association’s championship tournament. In a field narrowed from 530 collegiate teams to 48 making it to national competiton, Kennesaw State finished just behind Yale University and just above the University of California, Berkeley.
The Kennesaw State team also won the Sen. Robert F. Kennedy Spirit of AMTA Award, a division honor recognizing the team that best exemplifies the ideals of honesty, civility and fair play. Eric Butler, a senior political science major, won the highest ranking in the team’s division as a witness, earning him the title of All-American Witness.
The mock trial team competing in the national tournament included senior political science majors Travis Bain, Eric Butler, Misty Gann, Zack Moore, Brandi Sluss and Kevin Weehunt; B.J. Moates, a junior political science major; and Tora Norwood, a senior majoring in criminal justice.
“I am so proud of my team for the hard work and dedication put into our success,” said Misty Gann, a senior who is the team’s captain. “When Kennesaw State University's name was called to come get a trophy, I was filled with pride!”
While Kennesaw State competes in invitational tournaments throughout the academic year, the road to the nationals began in February. The teams’ strong performances at qualifying tournaments in Atlanta and Greenville, S.C., earned them one of only 48 bids to the national championship tournament. Kennesaw was the only team from Georgia to emerge with a national bid.
This season, 16 Kennesaw State students participated in regional and post-regional competition. Mock trial is a co-curricular activity in which students simulate criminal and civil court room cases. To be eligible for competition, students must complete the Trial Procedure and Evidence (POL 4466) course.
Using a hypothetical case — this year a civil case about a scuba diving accident — the students must demonstrate an understanding of the basic rules of evidence. They also must learn the case, review the pertinent law, present evidence such as witness statements, maps and exhibits and make winning arguments. In competition, students act as attorneys and witnesses. They play some rounds as plaintiff and others as defense.
“This team has done extremely well this season in part because it has remained flexible and open to continuous improvement,” said Elizabeth Gordon, associate professor of public law and conflict resolution and the team’s faculty advisor. “High levels of enthusiasm and commitment were also key to the team's success. Members of this team competed in nine tournaments this season and scrimmaged even during winter and spring breaks. Every one of these competition and scrimmage opportunities taught us valuable lessons and honed our skills.”
Ashley Ray, a 2006 Kennesaw State alum who was a member of the last Kennesaw State mock trial team to compete and place nationally, serves as a volunteer coach for the current team. She is now an attorney with the Thompson, Meier and King law office in Canton, Ga.
“Mock trial competitions are a building block to becoming a good trial attorney for those who want to go to law school, says Ray. “It helps build confidence and teaches organizational skills, leading to any career.”
Success has come primarily as a result of team members’ level of commitment, says Gann, who at 41, owns a medical lab service business and serves as a surrogate parent to two teenagers.
“We spend so many hours in practice,” she said, noting the normal schedule of four to six hours twice a week and every weekend during January and February devoted to practice for the competitions. “Over the spring break, we worked from 10 [a.m.] to 10 [p.m.] for three days preparing for the regionals at Furman University in Greenville, S.C. And that doesn’t count the time we spend at home, learning the case and writing closings and directs. I’m always walking around the house thinking about the case.”
For Kevin Weehunt, a first-year mock trial competitor, participating in the competitions can be even more engrossing. “I wake up in the middle of the night, thinking, ‘I’ve got to remember to ask that question.’”
The investment has paid off for the Kennesaw State mock trial team members, both in terms of success in competition and the students’ personal and pre-professional development. Most of the participants hope to enter law school and, as political science majors, they can concentrate in legal studies at Kennesaw State.
“Mock Trial has helped me to realize my career path is possible,” says Gann. “I had doubted my ability to think quickly enough on my feet to be a litigator, but the success and feedback I have gotten from being a "mocking owl" has helped alleviate those fears. … [Adding] these successes to my resumé will hopefully boost my ability to obtain admission to Georgia State or Emory Law School.”
For Weehunt, who also has begun applying for law school, the thrill of victory in competition has made the sacrifice worthwhile.
“I am very proud of our entire team,” he said. “At the beginning of the season, we were all extremely inexperienced and none of us thought we would get to this point. Every person on our team worked so hard and we were able to beat some of the truly elite academic institutions in the country. I'm not sure if Cornell, Florida State, Elon, Wheaton, and Penn State had heard of Kennesaw State before this season, but they definitely have now.”
-- Sabbaye McGriff
Photo: Mock Trial team members, from left, Tora Norwood, Brandi Sluss, Zachary Moore, Travis Bain and B.J. Moates
prepare for the national tournament. Faculty advisor Elizabeth Gordon is standing at left. Photo by David Caselli