Mock Trial

The Phillips Exeter mock trial team has won the New Hampshire state championship; the team will compete at nationals for the fourth time in five years.

This year was different, very different, because I live in California not New Hampshire.  So I was not able to work with the Exeter students in person, only by phone, email, text message, Skype sessions.  It was not easy:  some times I could not reach them or they could not reach me, sometimes the connection would drop or the voices would garble.  But they worked away to read and master the case, an aggravated assault charge against a teenager, arising out of a knife pulled at a graduation party.  The students held tryouts and formed three teams, A team, B team, and C team, each with about ten students.  I focused almost all my energy on A team, hoping they would win and go on to nationals.  I spent a bit of time with B team and no time with C team.

This year was also different because the longtime state coordinator, Kyle Skinner, has passed the baton.  We now have a new state mock trial organization, a nonprofit called New Hampshire High School Mock Trial, Inc.  We have a new coordinator, Jared Bedrick.  We have a board of directors, including Kyle, Jared, myself, Brian Jackson, coach of Bishop Guertin, and Stephanie Adamakos, my former student.

On Friday, the night before the competition, I worked by Skype with both the A and B teams.  We talked about emotion, how important it was for the victim to convey her fear of the knife.  We talked about the evidence rules:  the case had some tricky issues about hearsay and a prior criminal conviction.  We talked about using the whole court room.


On Saturday, the first day of the state competition, I did not have much news, just a few text messages.  Then there was a phone call and I knew, before I heard anything, that the news was good, because there was a babble of happy teenage voices.  Both Exeter A and B team had advanced to the “final four” the next day.

We worked again by Skype on Saturday night.  I worked more with B team than A team, hoping that BOTH teams could win their morning trials, so that there would not be any NEED for a final afternoon trial.  I was still getting text messages from B team members at midnight east coast time.  One of them read in part “in the words of every wise Exonian sleep is for the week.  However rest assured that I will be in bed within the next half hour.”

I was up early Sunday morning and had brief conversations with the team by phone at about six am west coast nine.  Exeter A was going to face Bishop Guertin B; Exeter B was going to face Souhegan A. Then a long silence, followed by a couple of calls around nine am west coast time.  Exeter A had won, Exeter B had lost.  Exeter B could not quite understand what had happened, they felt that they had beaten Souhegan, won the arguments on the evidence points, gotten key admissions on cross examination.  But that is mock trial; it is not like a basketball game, where everyone can see the score up on the score board.  And what you think is great cross examination may strike some judge as overbearing, overdone.

Exeter A would face Souhegan in a final round.  Again, another long silence, from my perspective.  I went to church.  At 1250 pm west coast time there was a text message:  “Mr. Stahr we are going to nationals!”  A phone call, not long thereafter, again a babble of excited teenage voices, but the message was clear enough, Exeter had won the trial and would go on to nationals.  Even more amazing, we learned informally that at the end of the first day, Exeter had three teams in the top four.  The tournament organizers invoked the “Exeter rule” and said that no more than two teams from one school could advance to the second day.  So the Exeter C team, the team with which I had not worked at all, the team that received very little help from A and B teams, was the third best team in the state.  Kaitlyn, the head of that team, did great work, following in the footsteps of the great Exeter C team of 2013 (see that post).

The nationals case does not emerge until April 1, so we have some time to rest.  But there is work to be done, identifying who will go to nationals, securing funding from the school, making travel arrangements.  Work that will be done mainly by the student leaders, Holly, Rebecca and Yena.  I am so proud of them, and indeed of all the students.  I am embarrassed that I do not know all of their names; some were just faces on the screen.  But they include Jo, Josephine, Anna, Daisy, Alejandro, Alistair, Sydney, Samantha, and Kaitlyn.

Walter Stahr