2016-12-02 / Schools

Burgeoning barristers take silver in Brooklyn

Santa Su tackles Fourth Amendment law
By Michael Aushenker


MOMENTOUS OCCASION— Above from left, Santa Su mock trial coaches Andy Steiker and Reina MacDonald; varsity students Yvette Lopez, Julia Jones, Jessica Smith, Riley Shapiro, Jennifer Jones, Jessica Dial, Shaun Nestor and Tristan Hennerty; and coaches Matthew Long and Jeff Harkavy take the stage after winning second place in the Empire Mock Trial World Championship last month in New York City. At left, Tristan makes a pretrial argument regarding the Fourth Amendment during the competition. MOMENTOUS OCCASION— Above from left, Santa Su mock trial coaches Andy Steiker and Reina MacDonald; varsity students Yvette Lopez, Julia Jones, Jessica Smith, Riley Shapiro, Jennifer Jones, Jessica Dial, Shaun Nestor and Tristan Hennerty; and coaches Matthew Long and Jeff Harkavy take the stage after winning second place in the Empire Mock Trial World Championship last month in New York City. At left, Tristan makes a pretrial argument regarding the Fourth Amendment during the competition. As the Manhattan skyline twinkled in the background, Santa Susana High School won a major courtroom victory.

Over Veterans Day weekend, Santa Su’s varsity mock trial team placed second at the Empire Mock Trial World Championship in New York City. Teams from over 40 schools across North America, the United Kingdom, Australia, South Korea and Hong Kong, randomly organized into two divisions, competed for international honors.


Photos courtesy of Robert Jones Photos courtesy of Robert Jones History teacher Matt Long, director of Santa Su’s mock trial program, led the team to its biggest victory yet at the Nov. 14 competition held inside a federal courthouse at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge.

Senior Jennifer Jones, captain of this year’s Empire team, participated as both a prosecution attorney and defense attorney during the competition. She had worked defense at Empire last year, when Santa Su’s team placed fourth.

“The competition (this year) was so stressful,” the 17-year-old said. “(Afterwards) I felt a sense of joy and relief. I could finally relax and just enjoy the moment.”

Principal Jerry Block said he felt privileged to attend the competition and watch his students compete.

“What was so impressive to me was how articulate our students were and how quickly they were able to think on their feet to respond to the opposing teams’ arguments,” Block said.

Building a case

Santa Su’s team received its Empire Mock Trial case documents in July.

“The kids ultimately generate their own arguments and strategy,” said Long, who is aided by five area attorneys who volunteer to coach the team.

This year, Santa Su’s eight-person team had four rounds to tackle a Fourth Amendment (which protects people from unlawful searches and seizures) case with six counts, including three attempted acts of terrorism.

At one point during the competition, the team moved to suppress cellphone data because it was not obtained with the defendant’s permission, Long said.

“ Our legal system doesn’t change as fast as our technology does,” he said.

Over the course of the championship event, Santa

Su climbed the rungs of the Tilif-Lafata Division to win against high schools from California, Pennsylvania, Canada and Australia, ultimately inching out Fresno’s Clovis High for first place.

After winning their division, Santa Su competed against another California team — Cosden Division winners from Carmel High School — which went on to win the championship.

“California is incredibly dominant in mock trials around the country. Ventura County is one of the best counties,” Long said, mentioning how Thousand Oaks’ La Reina High School won Empire in 2010 and 2011, and Thousand Oaks’ Trinity Pacific Christian School won in 2013 and 2014.

Growing a barrister’s backbone

Jennifer, an aspiring attorney, praised her coach’s leadership.

“Without him, we would not have been nearly as successful,” she said of Long.

Santa Su’s varsity and junior varsity mock trial teams accommodate all interested students, even if they just want to be understudies.

Some start out as introverts and blossom under the program, Long said.

Senior Yvette Lopez, 17, has transformed over the past three years into a formidable debater.

“During her first year, Yvette didn’t make the cut,” Long said. “Now it’s hard to remember (the taciturn girl) I first saw.”

Yvette, who won an individual award for Most Outstanding Witness at last month’s Empire competition, said mock trial has helped her improve her speaking and improvisational skills.

“I’m not afraid of speaking in front of large groups of people anymore,” she said. “My arguments are way more compelling now, which I find invaluable in writing essays and giving speeches.”

Not every team member aims for a law career, but all will sharpen certain skill sets, Long said.

“If they don’t arrive on our doorstep to be great public speakers, we offer them the opportunity to gain confidence.”

Ultimately, the program’s greatest victory is its ability to create engaged citizens.

“If they can advocate for themselves and articulate their opinion, that’s gold for me. That’s my goal as a teacher,” Long said.

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