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Mock Trial Program Ignites Imperial County’s Next Generation of Fearless Lawyers and Judges

-Editorial

In a move to promote legal education, the first-ever Mock Trial Boot Camp is paving the way for a new generation of lawyers who will one day become the next community leaders. The Imperial County Superior Court, in collaboration with the Imperial County Office of Education, hosted a training seminar for High School Mock Trial Students on Oct. 21.

Despite waking up early on a Saturday morning, these students were enthusiastic about learning about the court system and how to be better at Mock Trial since they knew the program would help them build their character and help them in whichever career they chose. 

One example is Veronica Gutierrez,18, from Desert Oasis High School in El Centro who found her passion by being part of Mock Trial at her school. She is the only attorney in her team but the support she receives from her peers is like a family, she said. 

“Mock Trial helps not only to argue but also to articulate our sentences better and avoid vocalized pauses. It also helps you make new friends and help them not only grow as people but become more confident,” Gutierrez said. “This has helped me be more confident in myself and willing to help others out and I’m not as scared to stand up for myself.” 

But to have a successful Mock Trial Team you need to have good coaches. Eduardo Betancourt, Desert Oasis Coach, said that the key is to read and become the character so they can nail their role.

“I call them by their name based on the trial. There is a lot of critical thinking, you have to know their strengths, weaknesses,  the pros and cons,” Betancourt said. 

Lourdes Ramirez is the coach of the Vincent Memorial Catholic High School in Calexico who has been champions multiple times. 

“It is a great experience and it takes them beyond because arguing in front of a judge is a great experience and it gives them the public speaking skills that help them in job interviews,” Ramirez said. 

In his capacity as the chairperson of the Superior Court’s Civic Learning Committee, Judge Marco Nuñez shared that several judges were actively engaged in mentoring these bright, aspiring legal minds during interactive break-out sessions throughout the day. 

Additionally, Judge Nuñez had the honor of leading a plenary session after the program, where he delved into the intricacies of rules of evidence and addressed any questions the students may have.

“The overarching goal is to inspire an appreciation for the rule of law and the judiciary role in our democracy which I think is needed especially today,” Judge Nuñez said. 

“These kids are super enthusiastic we want to get them interested in the law. I grew up in the Imperial Valley and we didn’t have a program like that when I was growing up. The program started over 30 years ago and many of the people that were involved in those early programs are now lawyers, judges, so they are the core of our legal community,” Judge Christopher Plourd said. 

Judge Michael Domenzain invited the students to continue the legacy of the Mock Trial program that has come before them. 

“I think people don’t understand the work these students put in for Mock Trial. It’s not one weekend, this is the beginning of their journey. There will be long nights, long weekend practices, and it will pay off since every year I see them get better,” Judge Domenzain said. 

“Mock Trial is the reason I wanted to be an attorney. It builds your confidence and empowers you to become an advocate. I’m delighted to be part of this first annual boot camp and focusing more on community outreach,” Judge Eran Bermudez said. 

Former local high school participants have gone on to achieve remarkable success in the legal arena. Notable figures such as former California Supreme Court Justice, Florentino Cuellar from Calexico, and current California Supreme Court Chief Justice, Patricia Guerrero from Imperial, were high school mock trial participants in 1990 and serve as shining examples of what this program can foster.

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