Monterey County’s annual mock trial finals had a dramatically different look Saturday but a familiar result, as Carmel High defeated Pacific Grove High to win its seventh straight title, with competition conducted via Zoom due to the pandemic.
Led by poised and articulate student attorneys Sierra Seifert and Logan Falkel, Carmel earned a spot in next month’s state competition, which will also be conducted online.
The loss was especially bitter for PG, the only school to go undefeated in five preliminary rounds. PG managed a narrow victory Wednesday night over Carmel, its perennial rival, but stumbled in the finals.
Now in its 23rd year under the auspices of the nonprofit Lyceum organization, mock trial allows students to compete as lawyers, witnesses, bailiffs and clerks, using a fictional case. This year, six high schools took part, with third place honors going to the team from Palma High.
“Zoom has been a wonderful resource for this competition, and for the (real) courts this year,” noted Monterey County Superior Court Judge Julie Culver, who presided over the finals. “It also presents a variety of challenges. The biggest is having to participate solo without the warmth and energy that is received from an in-person event.”
Lyceum’s Executive Director Joyce Breckenridge emphasized the importance of keeping students engaged and working together during the pandemic. “One of the amazing things about doing a mock trial via Zoom,” she said, “is that we were able to have three students participate from China for the Santa Catalina team. That is definitely a unique circumstance, and one that could only happen doing this virtually.”
This year’s fictional case involved a YouTube star, portrayed by Carmel’s Andrew Wang, who promoted conspiracy theories. He was charged with abetting a burglary and assault committed by one of his followers. PG prosecutor Lexy Sapiro labeled him “a puppeteer, pulling the strings” for his impressionable fans. But Carmel defense attorney Logan Falkel countered, “Today’s case isn’t about a puppet show, it’s a trial.”
One small move that paid big dividends for Carmel was the decision to stand rather than sit while on camera, allowing the attorneys to move and gesture as they might in a courtroom. Pacific Grove’s attorneys chose to stay seated, making their online presentations somewhat flat.
Carmel’s captain, Sierra Seifert, said her team was motivated after last year’s state tournament was dashed by COVID-19. “It made us work harder, especially the seniors, knowing that this was now our last chance. We were super bummed when last year’s event was canceled.”
In the concurrent courtroom artist competition, first place went to PG student Janica Hanna, with Carmel’s Darrell Wang placing second. Top winners in courtroom journalism were both from Carmel, with first-place honors going to Cassandra Gorman, and second place to Riley Palshaw.
Other high schools competing this year were Stevenson and Gonzales. Everett Alvarez, a participant in 2020, was unable to field a team this year due to challenges created by the pandemic.
So, was a charismatic social-media star guilty of provoking violence by his followers? In mock trial, Judge Culver ruled, “guilty.”
Individual winners in the countywide mock trial competition:
Prosecution Pretrial Motion Attorney
M.J. Apfel, Carmel
Dalia Cervantes, Gonzales
Nathan Hubanks, Stevenson
Sierra Seifert, Carmel
Fatemeh Sharoudi, Santa Catalina
Sophie Sparano, Stevenson
Defense Pretrial Motion Attorney
Leah Tullis, Pacific Grove
Neil Beach, Palma
Logan Falkel, Carmel
Ryan Roggio, Palma
Shayla Dutta, Carmel
Norah Schramm, Pacific Grove
Juliana Poppe, Carmel
Alejandro Ramirez, Gonzales
Oliver Page, Pacific Grove
Sophia Cho, Carmel
Janica Hannah, Pacific Grove (first)
Darrell Wang, Carmel (second)
Hayley Armstrong, Carmel (third)
Cassandra Gorman, Carmel (first)
Riley Palshaw, Carmel (second)
Aryan Nahal, Palma (third)
Contributed by local news sources