2017-03-16 / Schools

La Reina seizes mock trial crown

By Dawn Megli-Thuna


HABEAS CORPUS—At left, Talia Berriz, standing, of La Reina High makes a case for Molly Mirabelli, who plays the defendant Cameron Awbrey, during the Mock Trial finals. HABEAS CORPUS—At left, Talia Berriz, standing, of La Reina High makes a case for Molly Mirabelli, who plays the defendant Cameron Awbrey, during the Mock Trial finals. The queen has reclaimed her throne.

After La Reina High School’s streak of five straight Ventura County Mock Trial titles was snapped in 2016, it again captured the championship last week in Ventura, litigating its way past teams from Westlake and Newbury Park, which finished second and third respectively.

Defense attorney and senior Talia Berriz, 17, said last year’s bitter defeat—the Regents failed to even place at the competition—made the 16-member team’s victory even sweeter.

“Everybody loves a redemption story,” she said.

Mock trial introduces high school students to the criminal justice system by having them portray the cast of courtroom characters during a simulated trial. Students play the roles of attorney, witness, bailiff, court clerk and sketch artist.


TOUGH CROSS— Jordyn Regier, left, of La Reina High shows Brett Kallman of Westlake High statements he made during the Mock Trial finals on March 2 at Ventura County Superior Court in Ventura. La Reina competed against Westlake’s blue team for the Mock Trial championship. 
Photos byMICHAEL COONSAcorn Newspapers TOUGH CROSS— Jordyn Regier, left, of La Reina High shows Brett Kallman of Westlake High statements he made during the Mock Trial finals on March 2 at Ventura County Superior Court in Ventura. La Reina competed against Westlake’s blue team for the Mock Trial championship. Photos byMICHAEL COONSAcorn Newspapers Teams study a hypothetical case, conduct legal research and present their case against an opposing team before volunteer judges. Local attorneys serve as coaches.

The Ventura County Office of Education and the Ventura County Superior Court hosted the event with support from the Constitutional Rights Foundation.

This year’s fictitious case, The People vs. Awbrey, involved a restaurant owner charged with human trafficking and false imprisonment.

La Reina team co-captain Manivar Dhaliwal, a senior, also drew inspiration from last year’s disappointing performance. The school’s team has long been a regional mock trial powerhouse, winning state titles in 2008, 2011, 2012 and 2013.

“It gave us a drive to hit harder and work smarter,” Manivar said.

The hard work includes 10 hours of practice per week, including the five hours a week students spend in their seventh period mock trial class. Unlike other schools, which offer mock trial as an extracurricular activity, La Reina offers it as an elective course.

Sophomore Alia Biswas, team clerk, said that being an all-girls team gives La Reina an advantage.

“We form bonds no other school has. We’re really cohesive because we’re all each other’s big or little sister,” she said. Literally, in Alia’s case: Her older sister, Anjali, is also on the team.

But the all-girl team also has its challenges.

Senior Kiva Runnels said the girls are frequently labeled “barracudas” and must be careful not to come across as aggressive, something that male competitors don’t have to worry about.

Berriz said fighting negative stereotypes about assertive women adds another level of difficulty to their courtroom arguments.

“We have an additional level of scrutiny,” she said. “We have to go out of our way not to seem bossy.”

Co-captain and big sister Anjali Biswas said maintaining a high degree of professionalism deflects much of the criticism.

“Excellence has no gender barrier,” she said.

Their faculty advisor, Liz Harlacher, said that no matter the girls’ future career path, the skills they develop in mock trial will help them to reach their god-given potential.

La Reina will compete in the state mock trial competition March 24 to 26 in Riverside.

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