After making it to the final four in Riverside County’s 28th annual Mock Trial Competition, the team from Temecula Valley High School fell to defending champion Riverside Poly High School in the semi-final round Saturday morning.
The two teams went back and forth in a real-life, timed courtroom setting at the Riverside Historic Courthouse in downtown Riverside.
The presiding judge during the semi-final round, State of California Superior Court Judge Jack Lucky, said he was also on a high school mock trial team — 24 years ago.
As the prosecuting team, Temecula Valley’s pre-trial attorneys Chris Brown and Jassy Grewel said it wasn’t easy presenting the case to Lucky.
“He was super hard; he asked a lot of questions,” Chris said.
“We have a four-minute prepared speech, but you never know what the judge is going to ask you. You have to think on your feet — you have to know all your facts. It can’t be scripted,” Jassy said.
The case was People vs. Bratton. Jordan Bratton, a comedian, was accused of strangling and murdering an entertainment writer, Preston Palmer, for writing a bad review about her, causing her to lose gigs.
Riverside Poly’s rock-solid defense attorney Pablo Wudka-Robles wouldn’t have that, and his and his fellow defense attorneys’ performance may have racked up enough points for the team to take the round.
Riverside Poly then went on to get defeated by Riverside’s Woodcrest Christian High School in the championship round, with Woodcrest taking the county title in the end.
Temecula Valley has a long history in the county’s mock trial; the high school has won county title twice, in 1998 and again in 2008. Seniors on the team said they will miss the family atmosphere, and encouraged the younger team members to come back stronger next year.
Senior Candace Wherry has been on the team since she was a freshman. As a prosecuting attorney during the semi-final round, Wherry said she plans to become a constitutional attorney and has applied to Harvard, Princeton, Duke, Rice and Hofstra. Losing in the final four was bittersweet for her, as she was on the 2008 team that won the county title and went on to the state competition.
Temecula Valley’s attorney coach, Jerry Pfohl, said in the four years Candace was on the team, “she went from being an arguer to an eloquent speaker.”
Now a practicing attorney for Riverside County, Pfohl was on the high school’s mock trial team that won county in 1998. Years later, he was back to coach.
“I know this is not what you guys wanted,” Pfohl said to the team after learning of their loss. “You put on a great show in there. You went up against a team that went to state last year. This is a family and families are more special than anything else you can have.”
Senior Tera Avina, a witness in Saturday’s round, said she will miss the camaraderie.
“I’m just sad because I don’t want it to be over,” Tera said.
Victoria Lorah, part of Saturday’s prosecution team, will be back next year.
“We had an amazing season, and being part of the team is more amazing than winning,” Victoria said.
Sophomore Olivia Vaden wants to go to school to become an entertainment attorney, and is looking forward to next year. As a witness Saturday, she said she was prepared for the cross-examination.
“Their attorneys were really good — a little intimidating,” Olivia said.
Judging the semi-final round were Bob Reincourt, a public defender; Melissa Moore, deputy district attorney; and Bill Mitchell, assistant district attorney.
“These students did so well today, I sometimes thought I was watching real attorneys,” Mitchell said.
Woodcrest Christian High School team was crowned the 2010 Riverside County Mock Trial champion. Finishing second was Riverside Poly High School, Temecula Valley High School and Marywood Palm Valley High School tied for third.
The winning team will compete March 19-21 at the California State Mock Trial Competition to be held in San Jose.
The yearly event is sponsored by the Riverside County Office of Education, Riverside County Bar Association and Riverside Superior Court.