OCSA’s Mock Trial Team Competes in Playoffs

In only its second year, OCSA’s Mock Trial Team is putting OCSA on the map as a powerful contender in one of the county’s most competitive academic competitions.

During Mock Trial, a program of the Constitutional Rights Foundation Orange County, teams work together to analyze, prepare and argue a case for trial in a series of competitions with 43 other local schools. OCSA’s team has made it to the Top 16 and advanced to the playoffs in each of the past two years.

“This success shows a quantum leap right at the beginning,” said volunteer mentor Halim Dhanidina, who serves as associate justice for the California Court of Appeal. “They are already preparing at such a high level. If they're serious, they are going to be the stand outs in their colleges and future professions.”

Judge Dhanidina sought out ways to get involved in OCSA as a mentor after attending last year’s Season Finale. Not only was he impressed by the performances, but also in learning of the school’s academic prowess, hearing seniors announce that they were going off to pursue ambitious majors in forensic psychology, pre-med, politics, neuroscience and others, in addition to the arts.

“I thought, ‘they would make excellent advocates in the courtroom,’ ” he said. “The skills students are learning from their artistic pursuits translate to any field, but especially to the legal profession: the ability to think creatively, handle stressful situations, overcome obstacles and put in a lot of hard work. The non-glamorous toiling that goes into artistic pursuits directly relates to the critical preparation required for trial.”

The students involved in Mock Trial reflect similar appreciation for their arts training. “I feel the Creative Writing Conservatory has helped me with my analytical skills, research skills and ability to speak publicly, as we often analyze works and perform pieces,” said junior Victoria Dozer.

“My acting teachers have always emphasized that no matter how lost you are, or how nervous, you never let it show, and you never break,” said Hanna Briner (IA, ’19), who plans on attending law school to become a trial lawyer before applying to be an FBI special agent. “This helped immensely during trials, especially when responding to objections and delivering my closing argument.”

“Mock Trial has taught me so much about the law and also about myself,” said Zacharay Baran (CW, ’19). “I have learned in-depth legal rules and procedures, and I have also grown as an individual in my ability to speak in front of an audience as well as being able to think quickly and respond to difficult questions.”

“I’ve been involved in legal education for a long time,” said Dhanidina. “Trial advocacy and trial practice is a passion for me. And still, I sit in awe at what I see happening in the courtroom. The level of performance is greater than what I see in my law school trial class that I teach. If we took this OCSA team and had them compete against a law school class, they might win.”

The team benefits from the mentorship of Dhanidina, as well as volunteer attorneys Vikki Vander Woude and Ashley Daniel, with the support of faculty advisers Julie Scheppele and Maya Kohn. All of the coaches invest hours of time training the students throughout the Fall semester and preparing them to enact every role in the trial proceedings, as members of either the prosecution or defense.

For Anathea Woirhaye (ACT, ’20), the most valuable part of working with professional attorneys has been “their support and faith in our own development,” she said. “They engage us as equals and evaluate our techniques in a very professional way, which allows us to develop our skills in a positive environment. I’m continually motivated to keep improving because I see actual results.”

“It is an experience unlike any other, and nothing has prepared me for this career more than holding a full trial in a real courtroom in front of a judge,” added Briner.

Dhanidina concluded, “There’s nothing more energizing or inspiring than having students who are curious and want to learn things and want to improve and get better. These students give me a reason to be optimistic about the future of the legal profession, and that’s a nice feeling to have.”

Congratulations to the 2018 Mock Trial Team!

Zachary Baran (CW, ’19)

Hanna Briner (IA, ’19)

Riley Bryant (FTV, ’21)

Chloe Clark (CV, ’19)

Sophie Courtney (IM, ’19)

Hannah Dawson (CW, ’20)

Victoria Dozer (CW, ’20)

Grace Gibson (IA, ’21)

Kelly Guethlein (CW, ’21)

Melanie Huq (CW, ’21)

Anjal Jain (CV, ’22)

Ava McDonald (ACT, ’19)

Gabrielle Mikhail (CW, ’21)

Christina Miles (CW, ‘21)

Julia Morrow (CW, ’21)

Tessa Self (IA, ’22)

Ripken Wellikson (P&D, ’20)

Anathea Woirhaye (ACT, ’20)

Written By Janelle Kruly