October 23, 2007
|From a field of a dozen invited law school mock trial programs, a team from Georgia State University's College of Law came away with a national title from the first competition of the fall.
The four-member team, coached by adjunct professor Tom Jones and alumna Cheryl Champion-White (J.D. '93), took top honors at the 17th Annual Cathy Bennett National Student Trial Competition in Key West, Fla. The competition was held during the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers' fall conference Oct. 18-20.
Georgia State law students Ernessa Brawley, Zach North, Holly Muehleman and Mitch Freehauf worked over three days of competition, acting as defense and prosecuting attorneys (advocates) and as witnesses. North also took home honors as Best Advocate.
“If you win the competition, that's great,” said Jones, who worked for 30 years as a prosecutor and has coached mock trial at Georgia State since 1985. “But you just want the kids to have a good time and for it to be a learning experience,” he said.
Champion-White said Georgia State's team for this competition was selected based on their performance in previous competitions.
“They went above and beyond,” she said of the work that earned them a national win. “And they were recognized not only for their advocacy skills but also their professionalism.”
The mock trial program allows law students to gain practical courtroom experience while still in school. Teams are assembled from members of the College of Law's Student Trial Lawyers Association twice a year for six to seven competitions, with each team preparing for a single event. Participation can earn students one hour of course credit on a pass-or-fail basis.
“We all want to be trial attorneys so it gives us a good opportunity to show potential employers our advocacy skills,” said Brawley, a third-year law student who will graduate in May. “And it gives us an opportunity to develop our style early on,” she said.
“It helped me better understand the rules of evidence,” said Muehleman, also a third-year law student, who participated as a witness last year. “This year, as an attorney and a witness, I learned the importance of maintaining composure and confidence in the courtroom.”
Champion-White said the team began practicing about six weeks before the competition. The students, she said, practiced Saturdays and Sundays, as well as some weekdays to prepare for the case, which was based on a real-life incident of attorney misconduct.
“It was probably one of the most extensive and lengthy trial cases I've ever seen,” said Champion-White, who participated in mock trial as a student under Jones and has been coaching for about five years. “It was complex,” she said.
College of Law Dean Steven Kaminshine offered his congratulations to the team and its coaches. “Tom's developed an outstanding mock trial program and news like this reminds us that it keeps getting better,” he said. “The students simply did a great job.”