The mayor's daughter is going to jail, but her defense team is going to state.
Students from Pacific Grove High School were unable Saturday to convince real-life Superior Court Judge Robert O'Farrell that their fictional client was innocent of felony hit-and-run, but they argued well enough to impress a panel of three scorekeepers — all practicing lawyers — to win the 15th Monterey County Mock Trial Competition, sponsored by The Lyceum.
The young barristers took first place among seven Monterey County schools, edging out a prosecution team from Carmel High in the final round at the Monterey Courthouse. Pacific Grove now advances to the state finals March 22-24 in Riverside, where it will attempt to qualify for nationals.
Salinas High School took third-place in the four-trial competition, which also included teams from Monterey, Palma, Everett Alvarez and Santa Catalina.
"It's very easy to engage in histrionics in a competition like this one because of the things we see on TV, but I was very impressed today that these young people were using their own personalities without putting on airs," O'Farrell said after rendering his guilty verdict. "And, honestly, I don't know how they were able to learn so many of the rules of evidence that attorneys and judges spend years studying. And they've learned them so well."
On trial in the fictional case was Adrian Vega, daughter of the mayor of Hidden Valley and star swimmer of the Hidden Valley High swim team.
Vega claimed De Luca was behind the wheel of the car, which belonged to Vega's father. De Luca told police that Vega was the driver.
Carmel's prosecution team of Kenna Little, Caitlin Thompson, Carissa Redfield and Noah Liebmiller called witnesses who included De Luca (played by Alyssa Knapp), victim Cameron Douglas (played by Jared Liebmiller, Noah's brother), the investigating officer (Misha Polovneff) and eyewitness Quinn Liu (Molly McNeely).
Pacific Grove's Stella Park, Jenna Hively, Yann Brown and Lyla Mahmoud allowed Vega (Paige Silkey) to testify in her own defense, and also called swim coach Taylor Berard (Olivia Jamison), teammate Aubrey Fox (Becky Cooper) and eyewitness Dallas DeCamp (Hannah Azering).
Each team offered objections to opposing lawyers on grounds such as "hearsay" and "nonresponsive witness," and argued their positions to O'Farrell by citing actual case law.
In the end, Carmel's prosecution team seemed to have stronger evidence and more-believable witnesses — hence the judge's verdict — but a scorekeeping team composed of Michelle Woudon of the Monterey County Public Defenders Office, Terry Spitz of the Monterey County District Attorney's Office and private-practice attorney Kelly Sutherland determined Pacific Grove's squad had done the better job.
All seven schools have been preparing for the competition since October, studying the case under the direction of teachers and attorney coaches.
"This is my fourth year in this event, and I've really grown close to a lot of the people — not only my classmates, but also our coaches — and it's been a lot of fun. You really get into it," said Brown, a senior at Pacific Grove. "Of all the things I do at school, this is the thing I've spent the most time on. You kind of have to become obsessed with it."
Practices at Pacific Grove High began in October with twice-a-week sessions, and intensified in the past two weeks with daily three-hour sessions, Brown said.
Jared Liebmiller, the Carmel High student who portrayed the victim, called the mock trial "one of the very best experiences of my entire life."
"I was able to make connections with a lot of people that I wouldn't otherwise have, and I've probably connected with those people on a deeper level than I've ever done before," Liebmiller said. "It was very intense — the butterflies before the finals were really big — but once we got in the courtroom today, we knew what we needed to do."
Brown said he has no aspirations to be an attorney, but believes every high school student should experience the mock trial.
Liebmiller doesn't rule out a law career.
"I don't know. I'll see where life takes me," said the senior, who plans to major in international relations next year. "I enjoyed this very much, so I wouldn't rule it out. This was the first year I've done the mock trial and I really wish I had done it all four years of high school."
Awards were handed out to teams and individuals. For a complete list of winners, see www.lyceum.org.
Dennis Taylor can be reached at 646-4344 or email@example.com.