Pomona Mock Trial lays down the law at Regionals, headed to National Championship

Six students, two holding gavels and another holding a trophy, pose for a picture.
Pomona College’s Mock Trial team qualified for the opening round of the National Championships, which takes place April 17-19. (Courtesy: Pomona College Mock Trial)

Hidden among the 5Cs’ dozens of extracurricular teams and clubs is Pomona College’s Mock Trial team, a growing program that recently qualified for the opening round of the 2020 American Mock Trial Association National Championship. They will compete at Loyola University Chicago from April 17-19.

Originally founded in 2007 as a joint Pomona and Scripps College program, Pomona College Mock Trial has evolved over the past 13 years into a nationally competitive program, Rachel Oda PO ’20, team president, said via email. The team now only consists of Pomona students while Scripps has their own team.

Mya Fraley PO ’20 serves as an executive board member and treasurer for the group. The mock trial journey, for her, has been a long one, filled with memorable experiences and challenges. 

“I auditioned my [first] year. I was horrified to perform a speech for complete strangers but was so excited when I was accepted,” she said via email. 

The Mock Trial team competes year-round in invitationals at other colleges like UCLA and UC Berkeley. The abundance of time spent together, Fraley said, relieves the burden of competition stress often felt by team members. 

“It is both a very competitive and very social activity,” Fraley said. “The team spends lots of time together, and we became a very tight-knit group of friends by the end of the year.”

Though rewarding, the preparation for the collegiate-level competitions had been taxing on the group. Fraley described the amount of time and diligence team members put in to ensure a smooth competition. 

“There is a lot of preparation, writing and memorization that goes into attorney statements, direct and cross examinations, objections and witness performances,” she said. “But when the trial comes, you have to be on your toes to respond to the other teams’ strategies.”

The Mock Trial competitions introduce students to many intriguing — and even bewildering — cases. Fraley said one of the more interesting cases she’s seen involved a lawsuit between a television studio and an animal trainer, who brought a performance chimpanzee to a talk show — where the chimp became agitated, attacked the writer and killed him. 

“The show gets canceled, and there is considerable disagreement on what went wrong on set,” she said of the mock catastrophe.

PCMT has traveled to a considerable number of competitions, where they have continued to raise their own standard of success.

“During the fall semester, our team traveled to San Diego, Santa Barbara, Arizona, Los Angeles and Irvine to compete in practice tournaments,” Oda said. “This semester, our A and C teams competed at the Claremont Regional two weeks ago … Our B team is competing at the Tempe Regional [in Arizona] this weekend.” 

Despite the pressure of competition, the team members have achieved well-deserved success. 

“At the Claremont Regional, three members of our A team won all-regional awards, meaning that they were the best witnesses and attorneys throughout the entire tournament across all the competing teams,” Oda said.

The three winners were Hannah State PO ’20, Daniel Holtzer PO ’20 and Clay Hamilton PO ’21. Additionally, newcomer David Ruiz PO ’23 on the C team won an all-regional award for his performance of the witness role. 

Oda said the team’s success has become a point of pride.

“We ranked third, so we received a bid out to the opening round of Nationals, and our scores indicated we won by the most points out of any other team,” she explained. “This was a great success! We have had a very strong season.”

Fraley said the team is focused on investing in its members and providing a nurturing learning environment.

“[PCMT] has been especially rewarding because we take on a lot of responsibility coaching and teaching the new members, organizing practice and team logistics and making sure we are prepared to travel to competitions.”

Holtzer echoed Fraley, and explained how his role on the team has changed as he’s gotten older. 

“I can’t really try anything new [as a senior], because I have to make space for the people who are going to inherit the club,” he said via email. “The people above me gave me that chance when I was new, and now it’s my job to do the same.”

Mock trial has been an integral part of Holtzer’s experience at Pomona, a piece that will influence his plans after college. 

“I’ve never watched ‘Law and Order.’ Mock trial got me to think about the law as a potential career path — which I had never done before,” he said. “My team connected me with a lot of pre-law students, which was really helpful in answering very basic questions about law school and a career in the law.”

While the intriguing cases, intellectual stimulation and creativity are valuable, for Fraley, the best part of mock trial is the people.

“I feel so lucky to get to meet people who are extremely talented, smart and hardworking that I otherwise may not have met,” she said. “It is also nice to compete and represent Pomona in some capacity.”

She added that PCMT takes pride in its student-run nature, which allows students to take initiative. 

“Most schools we compete against have paid coaches running their programs, and ours is unique in having students do all of the training and organizing of an activity with lots of moving pieces,” Fraley said.

Though it requires more effort and planning, the team has reaped the benefits of their hard work. 

“While the workload that our team takes on is disproportional to other schools, it makes it so rewarding when we do well in competition,” Fraley said. “Our successes truly belong to us. We carry out every single step that leads us to that win, and we do it all on our own.”

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