Trials and Testimonies of Confidence
Article by Maddie Feltner
Silence hangs in the air. A judge sits at the front of the crowded courtroom, and students and teachers from schools all over the city crowd the room. All eyes in the room focus on one person: Kaitlyn Knific. Her heart beats heavily as she takes the stand. In this moment, she is not a senior at Kings High School; she is Campbell Bolt, the mayor of a small town wrapped up in a big trial.
When Kaitlyn is being Kaitlyn back at Kings High School, she enjoys reading, listening to music, and making art in her AP Drawing class. She enjoys participating in conversations in her classes, and as part of the KHS mock trial team, she uses this same skill to invent a character that speaks with conviction.
As a witness on the mock trial team, Knific has to set aside her everyday personality and take on the persona of a character completely different from herself to help her team win competitions.
Mock trial is a club at Kings High School and many other schools across the country where students can learn valuable lessons about law, the U.S. justice system, and speaking with confidence and conviction by going through the motions of a real-life trial.
Lisa King, a government and law teacher at Kings, is in charge of the club. She enjoys working with the students to improve their knowledge of the law, along with their improvisation skills.
“It is where students perform in a courtroom in front of real judges. Students play either witnesses in the case or attorneys. The competition is exactly like how a court case would happen. Lawyers direct and cross-examine witnesses and object,” King explained. “I love that students get experiences performing, but I am most impressed with their ability to think on their feet. Additionally, it is so cool when they later go to law school.”
The school has two teams, an A and a B team, both of which compete every year starting in January. The teams meet every Tuesday and Thursday to prepare and practice for their competitions.
This year, the mock trial teams are taking on a case that deals with the right to privacy. The trial, State of Buckeye vs. Quinn Woolf, takes place in the fictional town of Harmony, Ohio, where $120 million was stolen from a pension fund. Law enforcement received a tip that the defendant, Quinn Woolf, was the culprit. They later came across footage, obtained from a drone, suggesting that Woolf had the code necessary to hack into the fund. What the teams must argue is whether the code was in plain sight or if it was obtained illegally.
Knific plays Campbell Bolt, the mayor of Harmony, who testifies on behalf of Omniscient Technologies, the drone company. Not only must she know the character like the back of her hand, but she has to be able to think on her feet and be prepared to answer all kinds of questions.
“The most challenging part for me is being able to counter the opposing council’s questions on the spot,” Knific told the Knight Times. “It’s important to always be as prepared as possible and to think of any position or point an attorney could throw at you. It’s very nerve-wracking, but it’s a lot of fun when I’m up on the stand. You really get to show what you know, and I’ve improved significantly since my very first trial.”
However, she doesn’t take on this challenge alone. Ever since she started mock trial her sophomore year, Knific has worked together with fellow senior Eve Fernandez, an attorney, to make the best case possible.
Fernandez is also member of the Kings High School marching band. She is a reserved girl who likes to draw and paint in her free time, but she completely comes out of her shell while playing an attorney during mock trial.
“It gives me an excuse to be cutthroat and ruthless. I get to be someone confident and verbal,” she described. “It happens whenever I get on the floor in front of the judge. I can feel the adrenaline rush through me, and I use that to transform into ‘the attorney me.’”
Fernandez asks Knific questions to help prove her side of the case, so the two of them have to make sure they’re on the same page.
“I have to come up with a lot of questions, and one of the ways I perfect the flow of the questions is by talking to Kaitlyn and seeing how she would answer the questions,” Fernandez said. “It not only helps me lengthen the questions, but it helps her memorize them. We go through each question and write each response the way she would answer it. I base my next question off that and the process repeats.”
However, it’s not as easy as simple memorization. The two girls have to meet constantly to make sure no one freezes up or isn’t able to refute an argument the other team makes.
King even commented that this year has posed different challenges to the students than ever before, especially for witnesses.
“The witness statements are not as well written as previous years, so it makes it difficult to prepare for cross-examinations,” she said.
Knific and Fernandez, however, have easily adapted to the obstacles they’ve had to face.
“Eve and I are both very thorough, and we like to review characters before competition, making sure we’re prepared for whatever arguments are made,” Knific detailed. “Eve and I have a good dynamic, and we really trust each other and work well together, so going through the whole process is really enjoyable for me.”
Fernandez stressed the important dynamic between a witness and an attorney. She believes that she and Knific make a great team.
“The relationship a witness has to have with their attorney is trusting and respecting,” she said. “We have to trust that the witness will memorize their statement and learn their part. The witness trusts the attorney to have their back in the courtroom. We both have to respect each other’s input into the questions and responses. It’s definitely opened me up to be more trusting in other relationships.”
Though they play two different roles on the team, both Knific and Fernandez agreed that the challenges mock trial has presented them with have taught them about more than just law.
“It’s helped me become a better public speaker. I’ve never been completely intimidated by being put in the spotlight when need be, but it was never in my comfort zone,” Knific said. “Now I feel like I’m prepared for whatever’s going to be thrown at me, and at the end of the day, I really think I gained a lot from mock trial.”
Fernandez had similar thoughts.
“In mock trial, you learn how to project your voice to come across as ‘in charge.’ We work on voice inflection and just trying to fill the room with our presence. I use that outside of mock trial to make myself known. I used to be [shy], and now I’m not really afraid to be noticed,” she reflected. “Being an attorney has taught me how to ask the right questions and how to get where I want, which is something I often struggled with beforehand.”
A hidden gem in the Kings High School community, mock trial has served as a valuable part in the lives of Knific and Fernandez. Not only has it taught the two girls about the inner workings of the American legal system, but it has taught them lessons about life: how to hold an audience’s attention, how to speak with confidence, and how to see any side of an argument. As the seniors move forward into their futures outside of Kings Mills, Ohio, they feel confident that the skills mock trial taught them will serve them greatly in the coming chapters of their lives.