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Glenwood High’s mock trial teams heading to state

Pete Fowler

Feb 16, 2008

GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” On the witness stand under a barrage of questions, Anna Triebel plans to convince the courtroom that she didn’t kill the street musician during a robbery seven years ago.

In fact, a flying zucchini to the head did the deed, her attorney, Kerry Rippy, will argue. It was thrown days before the robbery by an out-of-control juggler, she’ll say.

Rippy and Triebel are Glenwood Springs High School seniors on one of the school’s mock trial teams heading to the state competition starting March 14.

“Since it’s kind of a who-done-it, the kids have been pretty excited about it,” said Victor Zerbi, a municipal court judge and longtime mock trial coach.

Just how confident and convincing the teams’ courtroom performances are will lead judges to decide who wins this year’s state mock trial competition. Glenwood Springs High School’s mock trial teams placed first, second and fourth in a regional competition in Grand Junction last weekend. The first- and second-place teams will travel to Fort Collins for the state competition, hoping for a chance to win and compete at the national level. They’re polishing up in advance.

“Mostly it’s just performance issues because it was the same case at regionals,” Triebel said.

The pair said they’ll be meeting three to four times a week with coaches to prepare for the state competition, fine-tuning performances and working on confidence. Rippy said closing arguments are always an interesting challenge because students must adapt to what’s happened in the trial, instead of relying on everything they’ve memorized beforehand. This kind of speaking and thinking on the fly in a professional setting can make mock trial a valuable life experience.

“Memorizing isn’t that hard, it’s when you’re actually able to think on your feet in front of the judge that makes teams stand out,” Rippy said.

Triebel said, “When things go wrong in trial, you just can’t let it throw you.”

After winning state four years in a row, Glenwood teams lost in the semifinals the last two years, Zerbi said.

“We think we have two very good teams going back this year,” he said.

Rippy said the flying zucchini death argument in this year’s case “sounds a bit ridiculous, but the way they set up the case there is some reasonable doubt.”

The teams usually find out which side of a case they’re arguing about 10 minutes beforehand and each student performs different roles in a courtroom setting. A panel of three judges score the competitions while another judge presides. Most of the panel are actual attorneys or judges who’ve volunteered to help out. Students prepare to act as attorneys and-or witnesses on both sides of the case.

“There’s a lot of detail in the cases and they really set it up so you can argue both sides,” Triebel said.

One new twist for Glenwood is that as of last school year, students can take mock trial as a class. Wes Burke teaches it, but Zerbi has shown up to most of the classes to help out.

“I think it’s been really, really good for the freshmen,” Burke said. “There’s so much of the rules of evidence and the rules of procedure that’s just easier to do in a classroom setting than to try and learn on the go.”

Triebel said the class must be why GSHS’s third team is so good this year. She believes they’ll eventually make it to the national competition.

Said Burke, “I think we’ve got a really good shot at winning state again.”

About 16 attorneys and judges in the area are donating time to help the mock trial teams, Burke said. Even some working judges like Zerbi, Judge Paul Metzger and Magistrate Ruben Hernandez have lent a hand.

“We’ve got a lot of support from the legal community,” Burke said. “That makes all the difference in the world.”

Tony Hershey, a deputy district attorney who’s volunteered to help coach, said, “It’s hard work for these kids and they need some direction, and they really need lawyer coaches to direct them with legal issues and help with their experience as attorneys.”

Hershey estimated that if each of the attorneys volunteering for the mock trial teams were charging for their time, the bill might stand at about $10,000.

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