Sugar House resident, Westminster student named outstanding attorney at mock trial competition
Sugar House Journal
By Sara Weikel
Westminster students had the opportunity to hone their courtroom skills in a regional mock trail competition, Feb. 12-14.
Held at California State University in Fresno, Calif., by the American Mock Trial Association, the competition drew undergraduate students of all majors from Utah, California and Arizona colleges, including Stanford, Irvine and Berkeley. Despite the relative newness of Westminster's team—this was only their fourth competition— this year, the team won about half of all their trials against the University of Arizona, Arizona State, and Pomona College, Calif. Two team members, John Cook and Teysha Dougherty, also walked away with All-Region Outstanding Attorney Awards.
Participating in the mock trial competition has given Cook "a deeper appreciation for the law and its complexities," he said.
A Sugar House resident, Cook founded Westminster's team in 2007 while still a freshman there. He coached the eight-member team himself at first, in addition to being the team's captain and club president.
Mock trial might never have gotten off the ground for Westminster if not for the school's willingness to help the fledgling club. The president's office paid the team's club fees the first year because they couldn't afford to themselves, and two members of the school's board of trustees footed a $2,000 bill for the first competition.
It speaks well of Westminster that they were so willing to go out of their way to support a freshman's project, Cook said.
The team had little success during the first two years of competition, but picked up momentum after insurance and environmental law attorney Bryan Coffey coached them during the third year. Also an adjunct professor at Westminster, Coffey's trial proceedings course raised more students' interest in mock trial, and the team grew in numbers and skill. Paula Porter, one of only three students who had been with the team since its conception, won an Outstanding Witness Award at last year's competition.
"Now we have something established that will continue for many years," said Cook, who is currently a senior finishing a double major in economics with pre-law emphasis and honors (an interdisciplinary literature and philosophy program).
Mock trial not only broadens students' knowledge of the law and improves their public speaking, it teaches them "how to think on their feet and apply the law," Coffey said.
The experience has also bonded the students together as a team and as friends, he said.
"It's really been a great thing to see," Coffey said.
Each trail in the competition pits two teams of three attorneys and three witnesses against each other in a fictional case written by the AMTA. Students compete in four different trials that are laid out to resemble real trials as closely as possible. Trials are judged by professional attorneys, judges and graduate-level law students who look for presence, speaking ability and sound arguments in the student attorneys, as well as a firm grasp of the law. Witnesses are judged by the believability of the characters they portray.