Victory on Halloween

Success in the first mock trial competition of the season!


Photo credits to Isabel Cushman

Written by Isabel Cushman and Camden Smithtro

As many of you probably didn’t know, the Pacific Grove Mock Trial team ventured down to University of California Irvine for the Second Annual Beach Ball Classic this Halloween weekend. There, Pacific Grove secured a huge victory, a second place spot among twenty two of the best teams in the state. Noah Thanos and Rachel Biggio, two of the senior attorneys on the team, also won individual awards for their outstanding skills as trial attorneys. At a Halloween-themed bonfire on Saturday night, the team also won Best Group Costume for their outstanding Harry Potter attire. The Beach Ball Classic, contrary to what its name may suggest, is a tournament that brings together the most talented mock trialers in California for an early-season competition. In each trial a presiding judge, either a qualified mock trial expert or practicing attorney, as well as three scoring attorneys, students studying law at the University of Irvine, gave scores based on performance, poise and mastery of the law. Pacific Grove, the only representative from Monterey County, competed in four trials against opposing teams and came out victorious each time. They faced prestigious schools from all across the state, including last year’s State Champions Redland High, and 2005 national champion Tamalpais High School.  

This year’s Pacific Grove mock trial team is led by captains Rachel Biggio and Noah Thanos and the case, the only one for the entire year, focuses on elements of second degree murder vs. justifiable homicide. This year, the team argues the case of Jamie Hayes, a college student on trial for second degree murder by baseball bat. Defense counsel – Noah Thanos, Arielle Isack, and Juliana Heritage – argues that the murder was justified. Casey Barns, played by Camryn Wood, was being strangled by a police officer and Jamie Hayes, played by Max Afifi, attacked the officer to save his friend. However, the prosecution – Isabel Cushman, Rachel Biggio, and Wesley Hardin – argues that Jamie Hayes had it out for the police officer, and took advantage of the opportunity to kill him. With the addition of debate by handwriting experts (played by Nicole Weber and Sarah Bitter) over the author of a threatening note, and a nuanced history of violence between the campus police and the students, the students must carefully plan the trial to show off all the nuances of their argument.  

Trials begin with speeches by both sides, laying out their arguments. The prosecution calls their four witnesses – for Pacific Grove Taylor Biandi, Thuy Burshtein, Nicole Weber and Hugh Hudson – and direct examines them to reveal their side of the argument. For each witness, the defense gets to cross examine them, trying to trip up the witness and bring out facts that help the defense’s case. After a five minute break, the defense gets their turn to call their witnesses – Camryn Wood, Brooke Fairgarden, Sarah Bitter, and the defendant Max Afifi – and present their side of the story. Then both sides give closing arguments, and the judge reaches a verdict.  

While normally the very beginning of the trial, the Beach Ball Classic held a separate competition for the pretrial attorneys, presenting an argument on constitutional law. Two attorneys receive four minutes to argue the constitutionality of an interrogation of the defendant. For the defense, Reem Benny presented an argument that the police had violated her client’s 5th Amendment rights, while Cammy Smithtro represented the people. Both attorneys performed admirably under questioning by some of the most difficult judges in the state, including the renowned coach of Tamalpais High School. (Buzzfeed famous for tattooing his arm when his team won the National Mock Trial High School Championship in 2005) The rest of the pretrial team, Michael McMurtry, Yasha Salman, Garima Gurung, Kismet Isik, and Simon Colburn, gained experience for future season trials.

The Pacific Grove mock trial team will continue to compete until county competition in the fall and hopefully move on to state level in the spring.