OCDE’s Pacific Coast High School heads to county mock trial semifinal competition for the first time

They may be the smallest mock trial team in the county. Nevertheless, Pacific Coast High School’s 10-student squad has moved past nearly 50 other teams to reach the semifinals of the Constitutional Rights Foundation’s Orange County High School Mock Trial Competition.

This marks the first time they’ve made the final four in school history, and their run continues tonight at the Orange County Central Justice Center in Santa Ana.

[Update on Dec. 14: The PCHS team has advanced to the finals against Trabuco Hills High.]

Working under the guidance of volunteer attorney coaches and teachers, mock trial teams analyze the facts of a hypothetical court case – this year it’s the People v. Awbrey, focusing on human labor-trafficking and false imprisonment – and prepare trial strategy, taking on every role in the trial proceedings as members of the prosecution or the defense.

However, for PCHS, each student must prepare multiple roles for both sides. Typically teams comprise 16 to 32 students who split responsibilities and only work for either the prosecution or the defense, but the ‘or’ becomes an ‘and’ when you only have 10 members.

“These students have worked so hard, and a lot on their own time,” said PCHS teacher and mock trial team coach Amy Sydoruk. “Having only 10 students means everyone is doubled-up on assignments for the trials, and that means many of them have to work outside our practices and around their busy schedules as PCHS students.”

Administered by the Orange County Department of Education, PCHS is an independent study program based in Tustin that operates similar to a community college, offering rigorous online and on-campus academic courses.

“I am super proud of these students because they have very busy lives,” Principal Machele Kilgore said. “They dedicate themselves to this after-school program, learning difficult legal terminology and jobs of the court, and they may even be simultaneously preparing themselves for their futures.”

While having the unique opportunity to interact one-on-one with positive adult role models, students walk away with many outside-of-the courtroom skills.

“It’s amazing to see what happens with the kids,” Sydoruk said. “I’ve had a lot of students come back and say they were more self-confident and that they felt more comfortable with public speaking, and we even have alumni come back and help out and talk to current students about what the mock trial program did for them.”

This year’s team features students Kelton Munch, Sarah Halasz, Riley Anderson, Anessa Rodriguez, Christian Young, Taylor Daniel, Katherine Yee, Kevin Yee, Gabriella Perrotto, and Jesus Cabrera, along with volunteer attorneys Aaron Heisler and Alana Preston Zech. The PCHS mock trial team also has the influence of student-alumni coaches Sean Simmerman, Luna Lindmeier and Daniel Yount.

The Constitutional Rights Foundation, a non-profit, non-partisan educational foundation that develops a number of law and business-related educational programs, coordinates the Mock Trial program.