Howard's Mock Trial Team Achieves Another "First" PDF Print E-mail
By Kristen Briscoe -- Black College Wire   

Howard University's Mock Trial team will be advancing to the Championship Round of Nationals after both squads competed in the opening rounds this past weekend.

After being the first Historically Black College to ever win a Mock Trial competition on the national level, Howard University's Mock Trial team broke another record, by becoming the only HBCU to win two bids, or spots, to the opening round of Nationals.

The Hilltop
Howard University's Mock Trial Team
Three of the Mock Trial's team members also won individual awards. Daniel Cokes and Shakei Haynes won awards for Outstanding Witness and Yosef Wise won the award for Outstanding Attorney.

When Marquis H. Barnett, senior speech-language pathology and audiology major, walked into the auditions for Howard University's Mock Trial team it was by accident.

"I took a wrong turn in Blackburn my freshman year and ended up at the tryouts," said Barnett.  "I had nothing else to do so I sat and watched the team.  I enjoyed seeing them do what they did, so I decided it was something that I wanted to do as well," said Barnett, who has been a member of the team all four years he has attended Howard and is now the president of the Mock Trial team.

"Being on the Mock Trial team has forced me to think more analytically in all areas of my life and has caused me to look at both sides of every story," said Barnett, who has won the most individual awards in competition for the team.

"It has helped me think before I speak," said Barnett, who plans on going to law school to become a litigator and reform the juvenile system.

The team consists of a team of 15 divided into two squads, who all competed for their recent competition that was held at the University of California.

The American Mock Trial Association (AMTA) hosts the tournaments.  Squad one consists of seven students. Dominic Ripoli, senior legal communication major and team witness, Yosef Wise, senior history major and Victoria Miranda, senior political science major, serve as the squad's attorneys. Bola Shonowo, sophomore political science major and Dilane Mitchell, junior journalism major serve as witnesses.  Omar Harding, senior, political science major, is an attorney and this team's squad captain.

Harding helps to schedule and runs rehearsals.

"We practice strategically. We don't know what questions we are going to be asked by our opponents, so we prepare for any and everything that might get thrown at us," Harding said.  "Mock trial has prepared me for my future by allowing me to participate in the legal system on a real level. I feel I'm at an advantage over other students being part of the Mock Trial team, because I have practical use of legal terminology and know civil and criminal court procedures." 

The case that the team prepared for the competition was a civil law suit involving the parent of a dead 2-year-old child, the plaintiffs, versus the defendant, a toy manufacturing company of "Princess Beads."  The case and judges are selected and provided by AMTA.

"I must prepare for what the prosecution and defense is going to ask me," said Ripoli, team witness.  "You can only prepare so much, but a lot is based on how witty you are in the moment."

Ripoli said there can be a lot of anxiety the night and morning before court, because the judging can be really subjective in the way that if the technique you practiced is different from the style that the judges prefer or use themselves, it can affect your score.

When not preparing for a competition, the team normally practices six hours a week on Mondays and Wednesday from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.  Their practice schedule intensifies when they are preparing for a competition to about three hours every night. 

"Being part of the team is like having another job," Barnett said.

Barnett, who is an attorney and witness on his team, is also the other squad's captain.  His squad consists of eight Howard students including Michael L. Roy, junior legal communications major, team vice president, Grace Kemi Olayinka, junior philosophy major, and Charles E. T. Frazier, senior political science major, all of whom serve as an attorneys and witnesses. Shakei Haynes, junior, political science major and Pali Payne, sophomore legal communications major serve as a witness.  Vincent Kelley, a junior economics major, is a witness and attorney on the team and Darele Jones, a junior legal communications major, is a witness.

The Martin Luther King Forensics Society, whose headquarters is based out of the School of Communications, is providing expenses for all the members of the team including traveling and boarding expenses.

Professor Angela Minor, who has been practicing law for six years, teaching for 10 and has her own firm, Minor and Willcox, which practices in D.C. and Maryland, serves as the director for the Forensics Society and the coach of the Mock Trial team.

"I can't take the credit, the students are so talented," Minor said.  "For the students I provide statutory law interpretation and objection law.  They bounce ideas and theories off of me to shape their style and technique."

Minor said Mock Trial gives students practical experience that dispels myths of what lawyers really do.  "If I had of had the opportunity to participate in something like Mock Trial when I was in school, maybe I'd be an even better attorney," Minor said.

Howard's Mock Trial team is the only HBCU to participate in and win competitions with the AMTA organization.

"Being part of Howard University's Mock Trial team makes me proud to be a Bison," said Ripoli.

The championship will be held in Des Moines, Iowa April 15 through the 17.

Kristen Briscoe writes for The Hilltop, the Howard University student newspaper, which originally published this article.


Posted Mar. 26, 2011
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