Richmond Students Play Role of Lawyers in Mock Trial

Over 80 West Contra Costa High School students recently got the chance to conduct mock trials at the Superior Courthouse in Martinez as they participated in the annual countywide mock trial competition.

Teams from five local high schools competed against teams throughout Contra Costa County, during four nights of presenting arguments.

Wanda Gonzalez, a junior at Kennedy High School, played the role of a prosecution attorney for the case.

“We are the first school in Richmond in a while to have a chance at winning the preliminary rounds,” said Gonzalez, who said she hopes to one day be a lawyer.

The program supporting these five West County teams is sponsored by the Center for Youth Development through Law (CYDL), a nonprofit organization that encourages students to learn about law beyond the classroom.

The students presented arguments in front of real judges and attorneys who scored the students on their defense and prosecution cases. Students acted out different roles, from bailiffs to witnesses and attorneys for prosecution and defense.

This season, students prepared a case for and against a fictional character on trial for human trafficking and false imprisonment.

After the first round of the mock trial, eight of the 16 teams advance to the quarter-finals. After that, the teams are reduced to four and then two proceed to the final round.

Last year, Miramonte High School was the winning team in the county competition.

CYDL’s mock trial program started about five years ago to help students from Richmond High, Kennedy High, DeAnza High, El Cerrito High and Pinole Valley High Schools learn about law practice and develop critical skills such as public speaking and teamwork. Coaches prepare students for five months, twice a week, competing against 11 other high schools in the county area.

Other schools “had good coaches already. Most students in CYDL teams don’t have attorneys as parents or family friends,” explained Nancy Schiff, executive director of CYDL.

Students in the program are coached by current and former attorneys with criminal law experience.

The students are well versed in how to make objections, something that both students and scorers agreed is the hardest part in winning cases.

“CYDL is meant to build life skills,” said Amy Resner, associate director of CYDL.  Some of the students in the program plan to pursue law and alumni are able to receive assistance on their journey to college and law school.

But even those who don’t become attorneys learn about the law in ways that will help them throughout their lives.

“The students know their rights,” said Resner.