Law and order in the classroom

Mercer Island High School Mock Trial team heads to state competition

Elizabeth Celms
Mercer Island Reporter

This year’s Mercer Island High School mock trial team is out to set a record. In only its third year of existence, the team blazed through the King County district championship and will compete in state this weekend.

Dressed in their most professional attire — with a judicial demeanor to match — the Islanders will take on the best mock trial teams in Washington on March 28.

“It’s really exciting,” said team co-President Paula Trepman. “We didn’t think we’d make it this far. Everyone is really excited.”

Indeed, the students are going into the statewide competition as underdogs. Over the past 20 years, YMCA Youth and Government has seen hundreds of high school teams, acting as attorneys and witnesses, prepare and present academically designed cases before real judges and juries. MIHS, despite being a novice, is ready to stand up to the judicial test.

“The kids are totally into it,” said club supervisor Susan Sutherin. “Last year, the students were rather shy. Now they’re outspoken and assertive. It’s been great.”

At the start of the academic year, all participating YMCA mock trial teams are given an identical court case to study. Over the following six months, students play the case out as lawyers and witnesses. They study how best to respond to objections. They practice representing both sides — prosecution and defense — and they act.

“It’s a two-sided thing, mixing debate and drama. It’s a lot of acting,” Trepman said. “Everything needs to be memorized. Objections are the biggest thing.”

Once a week, the MIHS team meets with Island lawyer Mark O’Halloran of the Gosanko Law Firm. O’Halloran coaches the students with skills necessary for a real-life court room trial. Clearly, his professionalism and judicial tact has rubbed of.

Up against 16 teams, MIHS flew through the first district competition, finishing top-eight to qualify for the semifinals. The two Islander teams, representing defense and prosecution, then swept both semifinal rounds, winning the competition to become the fourth-highest scoring team in King County.

When asked about the team’s competitive strength, sophomore Lauren Byun said MIHS added a “twist” at the end of its defense.

“We went all out with the defense,” she said. “We had an alternate ending that was surprising for everyone.”

The team hopes to surprise again at state, which will be held in Olympia this weekend.

The first trial takes place at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, March 28. The following morning, students will gather to continue the competition throughout the day.

The championship trial commences on Sunday at 11:00 a.m., followed by an awards banquet at the Red Lion Hotel. Volunteer attorneys and judges from across the state will rate the teams on courtroom skills and composure.

Eleven of the 13-strong MIHS mock trial team will participate in the state competition. For the past week, the students have been busy polishing up their roles and studying the material. Even if they don’t win state, they’ll show Olympia their sharpest face.

For more information on the championship, contact Susan Sutherin at

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