The young woman spoke confidently and without notes, outlining opening statements in a case about casino license bribery as her colleagues and a retired district court judge listened intently.
When she had finished the rehearsal, the legal team offered suggestions, speculating on what the opposing counsel might argue and which witnesses could testify for each side.
“This is not what you’d do in the real world,” said the retired judge and former litigator, Tom Dudgeon. “In the real world, you’d know what witness you’re going to call.”
In the real world, they also would know more than 30 minutes in advance whether they’re arguing for the prosecution or the defense. But these seven Elmhurst College students preparing for the American Mock Trial Association’s regional competition, their final tournament of the year, had to be ready for dozens of possibilities.
“It’s very intense,” said co-captain Alex Prejzner, a senior majoring in psychology. “You have to be able to turn on a dime.”
She and co-captain Tim Misner, a senior political science student, both plan careers in law, but they said the competition prepares students for almost any field because it develops leadership, public speaking and persuasion skills.
“It’s sculpting your mind,” Misner said.
Two cases are argued at the four-round tournaments, and teams prepare arguments for both sides. Three members of a team portray witnesses, and three act as attorneys. Two judges score each round by the strength of the team’s portrayals, questions and arguments.
Dudgeon is head coach, aided by attorney Edward J. Momkus, a college trustee; and Mary Walsh, associate professor of political science.
Mock Trial participants met one to two nights a week for three hours to work on witness portrayals, examinations and cross examinations, opening and closing arguments, courtroom demeanor and tournament strategy. They competed against colleges and universities of all sizes in two invitational tournaments last fall and in the regionals on February 20 and 21, where Hannah Stewart won an award for Outstanding Witness portrayal and co-captain Misner was named an Outstanding Attorney.
“I’m always amazed at what they do and how well they do it,” Dudgeon said.