Two high school mock trial teams advance to regional competition

Two Blair County schools will be represented at the Pennsylvania Bar Association’s 2014 regional mock trial competition in Washington, Pa.

The Altoona Area mock trial team defeated Bishop McCort Catholic on Tuesday at the Blair County Courthouse to advance to the regional tournament in Washington, Pa.

With that victory, Altoona Area extends its undefeated streak to three trials. The competition is single-loss elimination.

“It feels amazing,” senior mock trial attorney Rachel McIntosh said. “It’s like Christmas morning.”

McIntosh delivered a closing argument to cap Altoona Area’s victory, swaying a mock jury of area attorneys to charge a private school with negligence in a case involving the death of a high school track athlete caused by performance enhancing drugs.

Schools participating in the state’s mock trial competition are divided into five regions, which are then divided into districts. As of Tuesday, there were three undefeated teams in the third district of the Southwest region, two of which were Altoona Area and Central High School.

Central, coached by teacher Brad Heuston and attorney Julie Mills, won a trial against Indiana Area High School on Wednesday to earn the third district’s slot at regionals.

The Altoona Area and Central teams will be two of four competitors Friday evening at the Washington County Courthouse.

The two winners in Friday night’s trials will advance to the state tournament in Harrisburg at the Dauphin County Courthouse later this month.

Altoona had the largest winning margin of the undefeated teams’ last trials. The nine area attorneys serving as jurors for the two-hour Altoona-McCort trial came to a 9-0 verdict in favor of Altoona Area. Judge Milliron presided over the trial.

“We are going to Washington,” Altoona Area coach and attorney David Andrews told his team after the trial in courtroom four. Social studies teacher Jim Lowe is Andrews’ co-coach.

McIntosh, senior Jake Foose and sophomore Juan Gil aggressively made objections to the defendant counsel’s witness examinations.

“The more objections you make, and the more accurate they are, the better,” McIntosh said.

The team scored points as most of their objections were sustained, and even those that weren’t were “good objections,” Milliron said during the mock trial.

Foose cross-examined witnesses of the McCort team, pressing them to answer directly.

“I have everything so meticulously planned. … If you aren’t aggressive, your case looks weak,” he said. “Our coaches teach us: ‘You are the attorney. Handle the witness. Don’t let the witness handle you.'”

Gil was voted by the opposing team as Altoona Area’s “best advocate.”

“I’m happy about our performance, but we can always improve,” he said.

He said much of the team’s success can be attributed to the balance of skill among attorneys and witnesses who master their backstories and deliver seamless, impromptu responses through examination and cross-examination.

Blanca Gates, who was in the role of testifying as the girl’s mother, said the team has been training for survival in the competition.

“We don’t want to lose,” Gates said.

The Altoona Area team represented the plaintiff, the mother of the athlete who died of a performance enhancing drug overdose.

The Altoona Area attorneys had the obligation to show negligence by the athlete’s private school’s administrators, who did not provide drug testing that could have deterred the athlete from using the drugs.

The McCort team, coached by U.S. Magistrate Judge Keith Pesto, represented the defendant, the girl’s school. The McCort attorneys argued that the girl’s mother, who gave her daughter a $50,000 trust fund to buy vitamins and ignored warning signs, was responsible for her daughter’s death.

Milliron congratulated both teams for being elite competitors from the area.

“This area is known statewide. You are among those elite teams,” he said.

Mock trial in Pennsylvania is a community service outreach program sponsored by the Young Lawyers Division of the Pennsylvania Bar Association.

Mirror Staff Writer Russ O’Reilly is at 946-7435.