St. Charles North mock trial team will make case for national title

 
 
Updated 5/1/2017 8:09 AM
hello
  • St. Charles North High School mock trial team received a special distinction from Mayor Ray Rogina at a recent council meeting in recognition of the state championship. The team now heads to the national competition. Pictured in the front row are Ishani Patel, Lizzy Kramer, Zach Furlin and Maynard Maganini. The full team includes Ryan Wolak, Blake Yang, Tyler Lincheck, Sanjeev Viswan, Carlee Quagliano and Adam Nguyen.

      St. Charles North High School mock trial team received a special distinction from Mayor Ray Rogina at a recent council meeting in recognition of the state championship. The team now heads to the national competition. Pictured in the front row are Ishani Patel, Lizzy Kramer, Zach Furlin and Maynard Maganini. The full team includes Ryan Wolak, Blake Yang, Tyler Lincheck, Sanjeev Viswan, Carlee Quagliano and Adam Nguyen. James Fuller | Staff Photographer

  • St. Charles North High School mock trial team member Sanjeev Viswan describes the road to the state title for Mayor Ray Rogina.

      St. Charles North High School mock trial team member Sanjeev Viswan describes the road to the state title for Mayor Ray Rogina. James Fuller | Staff Photographer

It was a case many teenagers could relate to.

A young woman, desperate to fit in and make friends at a new school, found herself in a jam as she tried to navigate the games of an honor society's pledge week.

For each incorrect response to a "Jeopardy!"-style game, she had to consume water.

Refusing to give up, even after a friend did, she eventually drank so much water she died.

The task of winning the Illinois State Bar Association High School Mock Trial championship was beyond what any real-world legal team faces.

To take the title, the St. Charles North team members had to prove why the leader of the game was guilty of involuntary manslaughter and hazing.

And, for good measure, they also had to work the other side of the case and prove why she committed no crimes at all.

"As a prosecutor, I want to be passionate to convince a jury to convict this person beyond a reasonable doubt," senior Zach Furlin said. "But as a defense attorney, I want to say, 'Let's only go off what the law says; let's not get passionate.'

"I want them to determine if the person is innocent or guilty according to what the law says, not whether this person deserves to be in jail."

That's not always easy. On a personal level, the students spend so much time with the case they form their own position whether someone did something wrong and deserves punishment. But the task isn't about convincing yourself or following your own feelings.

"Dealing with that goes back to learning the principles," said senior Maynard Maganini. "When I was thinking about being a lawyer, that prospect of exonerating somebody that turned out to be guilty is tough to deal with. This year's case showed us it was clear the defendant did something wrong, but the question was did she do enough wrong to the point where she was guilty of causing that death beyond a reasonable doubt."

A few weeks ago, the team members proved themselves such adept prosecutors, defense lawyers and witnesses that there was no reasonable doubt about who deserved to be the state champion mock trial team. Their victory marked the second title for the school since 2014. And it primed the team for a shot at the national title in mid-May.

The path to the title involved hours after school -- and sometimes entire weekends -- researching the law, figuring out what roles best suited each member of the team and then arguing the case with each other to find the strengths and weaknesses of their plan. Then they'd test the plan at a regional competition, blow it up, and start all over in hopes of peaking at the state championship.

"I could be the greatest coach in the world, but if you're going to succeed like we have, you have to have passion," coach Patrick Crimmins said. "These guys will work 30 hours a week on the case at times. Our success is really based upon that, based upon that love."

The mock trial teams have produced many future lawyers over the years.

"I think it's just the responsibility of an informed American citizen to understand the judicial system and how it works," said Sanjeev Viswan. "It's also about working with other people toward a common cause, being part of a team and a family."

For others, the team fuels a personal transformation.

"I talk to people more because of this," said Adam Nguyen. "I have something to say now where before I would just agree with people or be more reserved. I'm a more confident person."

In a few weeks, the team will see if that confidence translates into a national title. St. Charles North will compete with schools across the country at a tournament in Connecticut for an achievement that's eluded the school for the nearly 20 years of the team's existence.

Crimmins, an attorney for the Elgin-based law firm of Brady & Jensen LLP, said mock trial is about having fun above all, but also molding exceptional individuals who are prepared for the unexpected turns life may hand them. That's why many of the cases the teams work are applicable to situations they could find themselves in some day.

The national case this year involves the death of a young girl at a school after-party. There are elements of alcohol, teenage angst, jealousy and rage.

The tournaments are filled with pitfalls. The judges may not be judges or lawyers in real life. As a consequence, sometimes their rulings don't jibe with law. And picking winners is subjective, just like life itself can be at times.

"So we teach these teams to be respectful in the face of all that, be ethical and be classy," Crimmins said. "We can work through any issue."

Crimmins and the rest of the team have high expectations for the national tournament. The team earned a somewhat unexpected third place in the Empire New York Mock Trial World Championship in November to begin this year's mock trial season. Crimmins said the team is now better than ever.

"From the beginning of the year to the end, this was clearly the most dominant team I ever coached," Crimmins said. "Winning the state tournament was not a fluke."

That doesn't mean the team doesn't need help. They must physically get to Connecticut to have any chance. And that's not cheap. The team is accepting donations through either St. Charles North or via checks to Crimmins' law firm at 2425 Royal Boulevard, Elgin, IL 60123.

The team will live tweet its efforts at that national tournament May 11 to 13 on its Twitter account: @SCNMock.

Article Comments ()
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.