Law council competes in national mock trial

Andrew Donohue

For the past couple of months, University students have been working diligently on a celebrity murder trial.
But the case will never see state or federal courts.
The University’s Pre-Law Mock Trial Council adjourned in September for its third season and is now practicing for its first-time run at the nationals, the highest level of competition. The council will be dealing with a mock trial of a celebrity murder case.
“Mock trial is a great experience for anyone who wants to do anything in life,” said Richard Danich, a team member and junior majoring in sociology. “You have to think on your feet, and it gives you great insight into how the legal system works.”
In sectional competition, which took place three weeks ago at Macalester College, the mock trial team finished in the top five out of 22 collegiate teams.
Two team members received individual accolades, with College of Liberal Arts sophomore Ethan Mutz winning the award for best witness, and Frank Leo, a senior majoring in political science, staking his claim as best attorney.
With the top five finish, the mock trial team has soared in the upper tier, or “gold flight” level, of national competition, which will take place at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.
The group of seven undergraduates is no stranger to the nationals, although the 1998 competition in early April will be its premier at the “gold flight” level. In the two previous years, the team had rested in the “silver flight” category.
“We think we have a good chance in winning, but we are more concerned in having fun,” said Kim Leo, a senior in chemical engineering, and Frank Leo’s sister.
At nationals, like sectionals, the team will examine a case that places a celebrity at the defendant’s table. The female celebrity is claiming self-defense in the murder of her own son.
The trial team, which usually consists of four to six members, must be prepared to handle both the defendant and the plaintiff sides of the case. Officials notify the teams of which side they will cover only 15 minutes before competition.
The team was founded three years ago by Steve Wehling, a fall graduate in political science and American Indian studies, and Kim Leo.
“We do it because we enjoy it and most of us want to be lawyers,” Wehling said.
The group of legal role-players finds its sponsorship from University Student Legal Service, though it is funded by direct contributions from members and by small University grants.
“The team offers students the opportunity to see what it is like to do trial work,” said Mark Karon, team faculty adviser and assistant director of student legal service. “It teaches what kind of work it takes to go into trial; it is a great preparatory activity.”
Although the team is sponsored, Danich said it is run by the student team members, and the legal service meets with them sporadically for assistance with judging and critiquing.