Students at Sacred Hearts Academy staged a mock trial last week to prepare for a statewide competition tomorrow, playing defense and prosecuting attorneys and witnesses. Anne Yamanoha, left, a defense attorney, questions a witness as prosecution attorneys Jenna Leong and Serena Hernandez listen.

Mock trial sharpens
students’ edge

Sacred Hearts' team is determined
to argue well in a tough contest

Ten girls from Sacred Hearts Academy will be ready to rumble in a mock trial competition tomorrow.

That means BoMin Kim won't be smiling, McKenna Bradford won't be fidgeting or rolling her eyes, and Anne Yamanoha will be leaping to her feet at a moment's notice to call out, "Objection, your honor!"

The first round of the Hawaii High School Mock Trial Tournament started Tuesday at Oahu Circuit Court. About 200 students from 19 teams in the state will compete throughout February, facing the toughest competition in years because of the increased number of teams.

Kim, Bradford and Yamanoha, new to the Sacred Hearts team, are working on problems. But 11-year adviser Lurline Choy, who teaches economics at the Catholic school, is confident that the girls will be ready.

They have been practicing two or three times a week since Dec. 1, including Saturdays. "This team is very proud" and is determined not to "look bad" in front of the lawyers and judges who evaluate the matches, she said.

The object of the tournament is to give students a chance to gain hands-on knowledge of the American legal system and court procedure. More important, it will develop communication skills useful outside the legal arena -- the ability to think on their feet and argue extemporaneously, analyze problems and meet unexpected challenges.

All the teams have prepared arguments for a case about a fictitious road race that led to the fatal crash of one of the drivers, Kam Souza. Terry Chan is being charged by the State of Hawaii with negligent homicide for Souza's death. The students take on the roles of defendant, prosecuting and defense attorneys, witnesses, etc., practicing direct and cross-examination, opening and closing statements and regular courtroom protocol.

Choy, acting as the judge and coach during practice sessions, said: "I'm yanking on their cords all the time: 'Do not hug that podium! You're the shark; you can smell blood!' she tells the prosecutor. And to BoMin (the defendant), "You laugh like that and you are going to jail!"

The girls themselves are often the toughest critics. Seniors Jenna Leong and Serena Hernandez, the veterans on the team, know what it feels like to be picked apart by the professionals. In an evaluation after one practice session, they went down the line with each member: "Don't sound so dead. Show more emotion. ... If you make a mistake, just skip it; don't waste time on it."

"We need to work on our objections. Know your rules. Once you show fear, the other team will pounce on it," Hernandez said.

When someone forgot her response, Choy reminded them that witnesses have to memorize their answers because they are not allowed to use notes.

"This team won't accept forgetting an answer. This team is very proud," she repeated.

In planning strategy for both sides of the case, the students had to be ready to respond to every possible angle or question they might face from opposing teams.

"We have to think outside the box. Sometimes we're not even in the box," Hernandez said.

The final four will compete at the state tournament at the Supreme Court building, Aliiolani Hale, March 19. The winner will represent the state at the national championship in Charlotte, N.C., in May.

Hawaii High School Mock Trial Tournament

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