|Oregon State Bar Bulletin JUNE 2008|
Ask anyone who participated in the Mock Trial or We the People programs during high school, and chances are they can share several good memories.
Andrea Hungerford, a partner in The Hungerford Law Group and Rex Putnam High School alum, remembers forming her own Mock Trial team because her school didn’t have one. She learned about the program from her mother, an attorney who worked with Marilyn Cover on the Classroom Law Project. Hungerford called several girls she knew from across the state. As a senior in 1987, Hungerford and the Girls State Team beat mock trial powerhouse Lincoln High in the final round of state competitions and placed 12th in nationals.
"I remember Lincoln had a team of over 80 kids and it was just us seven. We had never done a mock trial before, and we didn’t have a chance to practice much because we were so spread out," Hungerford says. "We must have done our semi-final rounds in Eugene and the final round was immediately in Salem, so we had to just jump in the car and do it that afternoon. I remember feeling queasy the whole way up. But along with feeling nervous, it was a lot of fun because we were all friends."
Sean Smith also has fond memories of nearly beating Lincoln High. Smith, vice president of Starfire Lumber Co., took part in both Mock Trial and We the People during his senior year (1990-91) at Roseburg High School.
"I have many memories, but probably most notable was the fact that we made it to the state finals in both We the People and Mock Trial and, on both occasions, very nearly toppled Lincoln, which was a force of nature back then," he says. "It was a source of pride for a bunch of rednecks and lumberjacks’ kids from Roseburg. There was a lot of excitement, anticipation, stress and euphoria — a lot of laughs as well."
Alison Brody, a 1991 Lincoln High grad, participated in the We the People program her sophomore year and Mock Trial during her junior and senior years. The former Miller Nash attorney, now Lincoln’s constitution team coach, recalls feeling like part of a well-oiled machine.
"The first day our We the People team performed at nationals I had to give a four-minute speech and be prepared for follow-up questions, but I had no idea what they would be," she says. "I just felt like my team was in synch. We had worked so hard and we knew the material cold. We had a whole team cheering us on in the room — that was a wonderful feeling."
Risa Davis, a first-year law student at Lewis & Clark College, was on Grant High School’s Mock Trial team from 1999 to 2002 and on the We the People team in 2002. She remembers the excitement of competing in the national competitions for both teams and getting to travel with friends.
"My freshman year our Mock Trial team went to nationals in St. Louis, and it was amazing to see all the different styles of presentation. I was doing cross-examination of witnesses, and to do that as a freshman in the national competition was just wild," she says. "Our We the People team went to nationals in Washington, D.C., my senior year. There were 30 of us on a trip together and it was super fun. It also was a great opportunity to see the Constitution we were talking about."
John Bachofner, a shareholder at Bullivant Houser Bailey, was on the Mock Trial team for Reynolds High School his senior year (1980-81). People had been telling him for years that he should become an attorney because of his passion for debate.
"I remember standing up to do my closing argument — unfortunately, I read it — but I gave this speech that presented my perspective as a student," he says. "My folks hated the fact that I loved to argue, and this was an opportunity to do that in a positive way. It was also a chance to use some of the skills you learn in the class to advocate for somebody."
Bachofner recalls a case in which Santa Claus was put on trial for breaking and entering, and he portrayed Santa — red suit and all — on the stand. He also remembers traveling to Portland State University for seminars as part of his Mock Trial experience.
"The collegiate atmosphere was exciting. I remember one of the seminars I took was on autopsies, and there were all these gruesome pictures that were really cool," he says.
Jefferson Smith, a 1991 Grant High grad who co-founded the Bus Project, was on Grant’s first Mock Trial team. The school started its program in 1990 and very definitely was an underdog in the state competitions. Despite that, it only lost a couple of matches its first year and quickly established itself as a contender.
"When I started at Grant we had had a school shooting before they sort of swept the nation, and the reputation of Northeast Portland was very different then," he says. "There was very significant school pride in doing something that was noteworthy and didn’t involve athletics or crime."
Marisa James, a Mock Trial participant from 1991 to 1995 at Catlin Gabel School, now works at DuBoff Law Group and says the preparation required to do well stands out in her memories.
"It was a lot of fun getting together as a group and preparing a big presentation like that, working with all these different students and lawyers from around town who came to give us their opinions," she says. "It was also a lot of fun to go to the competitions. I remember doing a cross-examination for the first time and getting the answers I wanted, and it was kind of an adrenaline rush."
Ky Fullerton graduated from Roseburg High School in 1993 and was on the We the People team his senior year. Now an attorney for U.S. Natural Resources Inc., he remembers the awe he felt as he met with some of the state’s most prominent legal professionals.
"My most vivid memory of the program was the thrill and excitement of spending the day in the Oregon State Capitol before panels of distinguished judges, politicians and political experts," he says. "One of the judges for my unit was then Oregon Solicitor General Virginia Linder, now a justice on the Oregon Supreme Court. Although it was nearly 15 years ago, I still vividly remember talking with Justice Linder after the competition about her job and the role of the solicitor general in the Oregon judicial system."
For Michael Wu, a Lake Oswego High alum who now works in the Clackamas County District Attorney’s office, competing on the Mock Trial team his junior and senior years (1995-97) meant mixing it up socially.
"One of the things I remember most is my teammates. We spent a lot of time together and I had a lot of fun with them," he says. "And when I think about it in retrospect, it was a very strange combination of people. We were all friends but we were from all social cliques. I remember meeting people I really didn’t know and getting to know them better."
Jessie Gnanananthan, an attorney at The O’Neill Law Firm, was on the Mock Trial team at Parkrose High School from 1991 to 1995. For her, participating in the national competition remains a vivid memory.
"That was so much fun and it was a great opportunity," she says. "Other memories that stand out are competition days and getting on the bus together to ride to the courthouse. I did sports in high school so I was used to working together as a team, but it was a very different atmosphere than sports. It was great to sit around and discuss legal cases and ideas."
Initiated in Oregon in 1979, Mock Trial now involves more than 90 teams — some 1,500 students — from nine regions across the state. Through the program, a component of the Classroom Law Project, students learn what attorneys, judges and jurors do and how trials are conducted. They put this knowledge to use by role playing during regional, state and national competitions.
We the People, launched here in 1985 through the Classroom Law Project, incorporates curriculum about the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. About 3,500 students participate in mock congressional hearings where they test their knowledge of constitutional issues during annual competitions.
Various things draw people to the programs. For Davis, it was a friend who was interested in Mock Trial and led her into it. "Once we did the fall trial, we were totally hooked," Davis says. "It was so much fun and such a great learning experience, and the people who were involved were really interesting."
For Wu, it was an interest in social studies and history. "I enjoyed the sound of my own voice, too, so Mock Trial seemed like a natural thing to do. And it was a fun thing to do," he says.
For Jefferson Smith, a teacher’s urging lit the fire. "Jeff Henderson was my Civics teacher, and I think perhaps he thought that if he had me talking more after school for Mock Trial I would talk less during his class," he says. "I also wanted to do something with a purpose."
For Gnanananthan and James, who had always wondered what it was like to be a lawyer, it was a chance to explore.
"I didn’t have any relatives who were attorneys, so Mock Trial introduced me to the legal profession," Gnanananthan says. "I majored in mathematics and politics in college and entered the actuarial field, but that memory of how much I enjoyed being in the courtroom in high school really led me to consider going to law school. I would never have known that I had the ability or the skills to pursue a career in the legal profession. Mock Trial gave me the experience and the self-confidence to say, ‘I can do this.’"
Lisa Greif, a Lake Oswego High grad who participated in Mock Trial her senior year (1989-90), already had an interest in the law because her father was an attorney. For Greif, Hungerford and Sean Smith, whose parents also were lawyers, it reaffirmed the decision to go to law school.
"It was a factor, for sure," Sean Smith says. "The rigor of the intellectual experience and the level and depth of tactical, strategic and analytical thinking involved in the Mock Trial competition far exceeds the rest of the high school curriculum. The We the People program got me interested in political philosophy and ideology, an interest which is as strong today as when it was first sparked when I was 17."
A Ripple Effect
Though some knew early on that they wanted to go to law school, others discovered their passion through the programs.
"I don’t think I would have become an attorney if I hadn’t done Mock Trial," Wu says. "I remember at the beginning thinking, ‘I don’t know if I want to do this,’ but I really enjoyed myself and thought maybe this was something I could be good at. And the coaches were a big influence on me because they were such great role models. They influenced my decision to go into criminal law because they were both criminal lawyers."
Davis echoes a similar sentiment. "When I went to college, I really missed all the stuff I had done in Mock Trial during high school. I missed that type of analysis, writing, and getting factual information and applying it. Realizing how much I enjoyed using those skills helped me pick my career, I think."
Whether professionally or personally, each agrees the Mock Trial and We the People programs had a significant impact on their lives.
"It got me interested in the law. I found it was fun and enjoyable, and that’s something that stuck in my mind when I went to college," Bachofner says. "I think it also put me a step ahead of other students during law school because I had already been exposed to a lot of those concepts."
Hungerford says she benefited greatly from the teamwork involved in Mock Trial. "No matter what part each of us played, you relied on the other members of the team heavily. As the attorney you could do a stellar job, but if your witness wasn’t strong you could lose no matter how well you did individually," she says. "It was one of the strongest exercises in teamwork I had in high school or since then."
Greif, who is senior attorney in charge of the juvenile division at Southern Oregon Public Defender, notes the advantage Mock Trial alums have when it comes to public speaking and quick thinking. "It taught me to anticipate the other side’s argument, which has been very helpful to me in my career as an attorney. And then just being part of a team of high school kids who really got into it and took the event seriously. It showed us what commitment can do when you’re working on a project in your life," she says.
Josh Krupies, who graduated from Yamhill-Carlton High in 1995 and participated in Mock Trial from 1993-95, says he enjoyed learning the basic rules of evidence. Those rules have stuck with him since high school even though he put law school on hold to serve as deputy to Mayor Pro Tempore Jeffrey Prang in West Hollywood, Calif.
"I once took a criminal justice (courtroom evidence) class in college and it was the easiest ‘A’ I ever received because it was simply a rehash of all the rules of evidence I had learned in Mock Trial," Krupies says.
Wu says the personal lessons continue to resonate as well. "It kind of forces you to try to get along with people you normally wouldn’t work with. That’s kind of like life, too. You work with the people you need to, but there are different personalities and you have to figure out how to manage that because you spend a lot of time together. It’s easy to get a little tired or stressed out or annoyed."
Jefferson Smith says that, in addition to helping him see both sides of a problem and improving both his oral and written communication skills, Mock Trial inspired him to pursue a career that is meaningful.
"It helped develop in me, and I think some of my classmates, a commitment to public purpose," he says. "It was pretty significant in setting me on a path that was law school and public service rather than trying to be a real estate mogul."
Brody, who called We the People one of the most life-changing experiences of her life, says the program introduced her to her intellectual passion and a love of public speaking.
"It just instilled a tremendous sense of self confidence. And now that I’m coaching the We the People team at Lincoln, it’s really given me the most important thing I do with my life outside of my family. It’s a huge part of my life and it feels like one of the most worthwhile things I’ll ever do," Brody says.
Oona Hathaway, an associate professor at Yale Law School who graduated from Lincoln in 1990, says her participation in the We the People and Mock Trial programs honed her public speaking and communication skills and taught her about how the law functions.
"But I think the most important impact on me came from (coach) Hal Hart’s example of what a lawyer-citizen-teacher could do and could be," she says. "I saw that it was possible to change the lives of others for the better through the law and through teaching."
A Gift Not Forgotten
Regardless of how their memories or experiences differed, the group shares the impact made by coaches they will remember forever as treasured role models, mentors and friends.
"It was my first exposure to lawyers. I didn’t have a brother or an uncle or a dad who was a lawyer, so my coaches were the first legal professionals I met and they were really good role models," Wu says of coaches Jean Maurer and Steve Maurer.
Greif expressed thanks to her coach, Brenda Lavender, for her consistent positive attitude and support. "She did a good job of preparing us and working with us in the competition. She was a gem for all of us who were on the team."
Gnanananthan calls her coach, Michelle DeShaw, "the most influential teacher I had in high school and college, without question."
"I am so appreciative of her because she taught me so many fundamental things, like how to present yourself, how to stand in a way that will make people notice you and what you’re saying, and other skills that you really need to know to succeed in life," she adds.
Krupies says he has fond memories of his teacher Joe Gstettenbauer and local attorneys such as Mark Lawrence who volunteered to share their expertise.
"It was fun to listen to them debate each other on what approaches we should take to the cases. It allowed us as participants to hear conflicting viewpoints and determine our course of action," he says. "I believe we competed at the state level each of the three years I participated, and I know it is because we were fortunate enough to have such talented and diverse leadership."
Brody says Lincoln’s "three tremendous coaches" — Hal Hart, Charles Sparks and Christopher Hardman — greatly enhanced her Mock Trial experience. Hart, who passed away last year, was a Lincoln alum and chief coach who became more than a mentor for many of his students.
"He was a remarkably charismatic person and he encouraged students to try out and have their life changed. I heard his pep talk and got involved," Brody says. "He sent me flowers the first day I took the bar exam. He was a grandfather to everyone, and he remained in my life well beyond high school."
Hathaway says she, too, received invaluable benefits from Hart’s commitment to the program. "He had such a passion for the law and the power it had to ‘do good’ in the world. His enthusiasm was infectious," she says. "He also cared so deeply about the students in the programs. He was not just there to teach and not just to win, which we did a lot in those days, but to help the kids who were involved become better for it."
Marilyn Cover, executive director of the Classroom Law Project, says the programs continue to have such an impact on the lives of young people because of the teacher/coaches and legal professionals who volunteer their time and talent in high schools throughout the state.
"They have such a passion for these programs and so many of them volunteer thousands of hours. Their commitment is just phenomenal," Cover says. "Our organization wouldn’t be anywhere as successful if we didn’t have them."
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Melody Finnemore is a Portland-area freelance writer and a frequent contributor to the Bulletin.
© 2008 Melody Finnemore