Immaculate Heart Middle School was named the Junior Division champion of the 46th Annual Los Angeles County Mock Trial competition!
The school clinched first place – for the first time – in the finals event on Monday, December 4, against Pasadena Polytechnic Middle School at the Stanley Mosk Courthouse in downtown Los Angeles.
This is the second year in a row that Immaculate Heart has reached the finals, but it was the first time the team has competed in-person since the pandemic. The 25-member team, featuring a mix of sixth, seventh and eighth grade students, was also the youngest group Immaculate Heart has ever fielded in the competition. Age, however, didn’t prevent sixth grader Harper Colbert from snagging the Most Valuable Player award at finals for her portrayal of a prosecution trial witness. Also recognized was eighth grader Olive Gruber who received third place as a courtroom artist in the competition.
Paving the way for Immaculate Heart’s victory was the school’s defense team, which turned in a winning performance in the semi-finals match on Monday, November 27. During that event, eighth grader Sasha Patton was named MVP for her role as an attorney. The defense team’s success in the semi-finals propelled Immaculate Heart’s prosecution team to the championship round.
This year’s presiding judge at finals was Los Angeles County Superior Court Commissioner Gabriella Shapiro. Among the four scoring judges was Darin Beffa, chairman of the board of Teach Democracy, formerly the Constitutional Rights Foundation and the chief sponsor of the Mock Trial Program.
The Los Angeles Mock Trial Program is an academic competition in which over 2,500 high school and middle school students compete at the county level. Student teams study a hypothetical case, conduct legal research, and receive guidance from volunteer attorneys in courtroom procedures and trial preparation. The trial itself is a simulation of a criminal case, in which students portray lawyers, witnesses, court clerks, and bailiffs. Students also serve as courtroom artists, journalists, and understudies.
Since organizing in August, Immaculate Heart’s team has practiced three times each week in preparation for this year’s murder case involving a sibling rivalry. Guiding the students were Immaculate Heart alumna and former judge Lorraine Munoz, Class of 1972, and faculty moderator Carolyn Polchow. They were assisted by three Immaculate Heart High School freshmen – Madi De Leon Wagner, Addie Pavey and Alexandra Mahoney, all former members of last year’s Middle School Mock Trial team.
Polchow said the coaches worked with students to create their line of questioning as well as opening and closing statements. Munoz also provided bare-bones scripts that the students tailored to fit their style and comfort level. However, the team’s rehearsals involved more than students simply memorizing lines for their assigned roles, Polchow said.
“In the actual competitions, you don’t know what the other team will ask on their direct examinations of their witnesses or what they will ask our witnesses on cross-examination,” she said. “As a result, the students need to be quick, critical thinkers who can process information as it comes to them in the trial and then make appropriate responses.”
While learning about the legal system, the students also develop skills in critical thinking and public speaking, gain confidence, and build teamwork, the teacher said. “In all the many years of doing this, the best moments for me are the smiles on the faces of students who start out the year unsure of themselves and end up overcoming their fears and performing,” Polchow said. “Also, a number of our Mock Trial alums have gone on to be very successful debaters for the high school debate team.”