Flintridge Prep’s Mock Trial teams closed out their 2021 season with some of their best performances, with the varsity team placing third at the 2021 Los Angeles County Mock Trial Competition. Two members of the JV team received individual awards: Ellie Sohn ’25 earned the Alan I. Rothenberg Outstanding Defense Pretrial Attorney award and Sophia Zhong ’25 received the Outstanding Defense Attorney Award.
The competition, held by the Constitutional Rights Foundation, boasts over 2,500 high school and middle school students from participating schools across Los Angeles County. Simulating a criminal case, student teams work together on researching the case and legal precedents, preparing arguments, and acting as lawyers, witnesses, clerks, and bailiffs within the actual trial.
Beginning in September, both the varsity and JV Flintridge Prep teams began preparing the trial materials for the prosecution and defense in the case of People vs. Cobey, which alleged that the defendant had killed her landlord with the unusual weapon of a Mojave rattlesnake.
“The entire team of 8th-12th graders did an incredible job this year, creating a really fun, collaborative environment, which led to their most successful season yet,” Mock Trial Attorney Coach Kirsten Harbers, a Prep parent and former lawyer for the LA District Attorney’s office, shares. “The Varsity Team made it to the semifinals of the Constitutional Rights Foundation Tournament, prevailing over at least 96 other teams in single elimination competition. With a team made up entirely of first-time participants, the JV team also had an amazing run and made it to the top 16.”
Prep’s Mock Trial program began in 2017 when Jason Kreinberg ’20, then a sophomore, proposed the idea to history teacher Will Bellaimey of starting a Mock Trial competitive team at the school. Since then, the team has grown to over 30 members, including a recently instated JV team, with Bellaimey and Harbers serving as advisors.
Elizabeth Lira ’22 is one of two head captains for this year’s Mock Trial teams and reflected upon how far the team has come. “It was so special to place third this year because it represented a culmination of group effort that began years ago at the first mock competition,” Gonzalez says. “After each season is over, we ask how we move forward and then we build upon previous experiences. This year, we put in insane hours of work, whether it be meeting in backyards to run through our case or making Mr. Bellaimey stay until 5:00 p.m. at school to listen to all of our materials.”
Working together, in person, completely changed the experience for many students, who spent much of 2020 and 2021 preparing for trials and competing virtually.
“Mock Trial is such a collaborative endeavor that it really wasn’t the same when we didn’t have students hanging around together, figuring out pieces of the trial, running lines, and practicing objections,” Bellaimey shares. “The biggest factor in our success this year was the depth of experience. We had eight seniors who have all been involved in one way or another since they were freshmen and they really helped lead the team forward and motivate everyone to do their best.”
“Competing virtually was a challenge considering the lack of interaction we had with our team members,” head captain Nicole Gonzalez ’22 says, echoing Bellaimey. “This year, there were definitely more opportunities for growth since we were able to meet more frequently and in a more interactive manner. Personally, Mock Trial has been one of the best things I have been a part of at Prep ever since freshman year. We were lucky to be able to work together the way we did this season, and I am forever appreciative of all the team members. We bonded at our biweekly meetings, our weekend meetings, and after competitions while we teased apart the other side's argument.”
Both Gonzalez and Lira both express their love for their team and the Mock Trial experience, especially as seniors and head captains this year. “Funnily enough, Mock Trial felt like a needed reprieve from the senior stress, where the whole team could nerd out together over legal precedent and case theories,” Lira says. “Competing was extremely rewarding; I could watch my teammates who started out with me as timid freshmen grow into fantastic lawyers, and I got to see the enthusiastic younger students gain more confidence in their abilities. The team bond this year was the strongest it's ever been, and that made competing so valuable.”