Trial and error

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Muhlenberg's Mock Trial team competed at Haverford College for the regional competition. Photo courtesy of @bergmocktrial on Instagram.

Matthew Klinger is also a member of the Muhlenberg Mock Trial.

For the first time in two years, the Muhlenberg Mock Trial team competed at the regional competition this weekend. The competition was held at Haverford College, and the team competed in four rounds, two on Saturday and two on Sunday. Matthew Klinger ‘24, Bridget Parks ‘25, Dylan Meirowitz ‘26, Joyce Bento ‘26, Geoffrey Levy ‘26, Robert Becht ‘27, Emily Gonzalez ‘27, Katie Hunt ‘27, Kabir Burman ‘27, Amina Dia ‘27, Laura Walthier ‘27 and Nora Elkhyati ‘27 were all part of the team this year. Ross Dardani, Ph.D., of the Political Science Department, is the club’s advisor, and he transported students from Muhlenberg to Haverford each day. 

In mock trial, the cases alternate—one year is a civil case and the next is a criminal case. This year, it was a criminal case involving a fictional art heist during a charity gala. Half of the team represented the prosecution, meaning that they were arguing for the accused party’s culpability. The other half of the team was part of the defense, meaning that they were arguing for the accused party’s innocence. 

The team has been working on the case since the fall semester, and the competition was the culmination of months of hard work. Given that the club was restarting after not competing last year, the goal was for this year to be a learning year for the new members to gain experience. Dardani explained that “We agreed that the goals [for this year] were definitely—because of how inexperienced we were—to compete at regionals, gain experience and learn.” The hope is that this year’s competition will provide the members with valuable experience that they can use as momentum going forward into next year.

While the competition was a lot of fun and a good learning experience, it did not go off without a hitch. When the team first arrived at the competition, they were informed that they had too many people on the roster; the American Mock Trial Association (AMTA) only allows ten students per roster. However, Muhlenberg had twelve. This meant that two people—Klinger and Bento—could not compete, and two other people—Elkhyati, an attorney, and Levy, a witness—would have to learn their roles in less than an hour. While learning roles in such a short period of time was a tall task, two factors made it more manageable. 

First, attorneys are allowed to read off of prepared notes, meaning that Elkhyati did not have to memorize everything. While it meant that she would not have the background knowledge of the character she was talking to on the stand, she would still be able to direct and cross-examine witnesses. Unfortunately for witnesses, they are not allowed to read off of prepared materials. However, Levy was playing one role on Saturday and another on Sunday. Coincidentally, Bento was originally set to play Levy’s Sunday role on Saturday. This meant that Levy, while not fully familiar with his new role, would have enough familiarity with the character to answer questions. 

However, after the rocky start, the team continued to improve as the competition went on. In fact, they nearly won their final round, falling short by a mere four points. Dardani remarked that “it was a toss-up.” Parks spoke positively of the team’s progress, saying,“all of our members were able to work together and establish a solid performance that earned several compliments from judges.” 

Reflecting on the competition, Dardani stated, “I could not have been prouder about how every member of the team handled themselves, especially in how they persevered through multiple crises each day. I thought that everyone on the team individually did a great job and that people really came together when there were challenges to work through them.” 

Students were still able to have fun amidst the challenges while also getting experience for future years. Gonzalez, one of the attorneys, commented that “This weekend was such an incredible learning opportunity. As someone who had never done a mock trial before, I was extremely nervous and unaware of what to expect. But nevertheless, it was an exhilarating experience in which I built a bond with my fellow teammates, practiced my skills and was able to network. Competing was such a fun experience and I can’t wait to compete again.”

Elkhyati, also an attorney, shared that sentiment. “It was a liberating experience! Being able to practice and perform my passion through mock trial is one of my favorite parts about Muhlenberg,” she explained.

The weekend was fun for witnesses too. Walthier said “I had a lot of fun. I was pretty nervous because I am not the best public speaker, but I got more comfortable as the days went on. I had a great time with the team!” Hunt elaborated on that: “It was great being a witness taking the stand. I really felt a rush of energy and excitement,” she explained.

Dardani is looking forward to future years for Mock Trial. He explained that “We have right now a really strong core for rosters in the future, and hopefully we can build around the core and the foundation we have built this year. Everyone is super supportive of each other. I’m excited, very excited, for the future of the Mock Trial at Muhlenberg.” Those who are interested in joining Mock Trial for next year should contact Dardani at rossdardani@muhlenberg.edu. Students should also follow @bergmocktrial to stay informed.

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