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Reflections on Santa Clara County's Mock Trial Program

Posted By Administration, Monday, March 11, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, May 13, 2014

2013 President's Message
Guest Author Kevin Hammon,
Member, SCCBA Executive Committee

Last month, a sea of 400 high school students gathered outside the Downtown Superior Courthouse on First Street. Well-used backpacks adorned suit jackets, and long slacks transformed tennis shoes into appropriate courtroom footwear. Future lawyers, doctors and engineers poured out of minivans like paratroopers descending into battle. An enthusiastic team of students, with matching bespeckled bowties and neck scarves, greeted its members with hugs and high fives. Teacher and attorney coaches delivered heartfelt pep talks to their eager yet nervous students. Around 5:30 p.m., the schools were dispatched from the courthouse jury room to their assigned courtrooms. By 6:00 p.m., seats were filled, team rosters were distributed, and the annual Santa Clara County high school mock trial competition was well underway.

The Constitutional Rights Foundation (“CRF”) created California’s mock trial program in 1980. CRF prepares the case materials. These materials are provided to the various county coordinators, who then distribute them to the participating high schools. In Santa Clara County, mock trial is facilitated through a partnership of the County’s Bar Association, Superior Court, and Office of Education. This year, the mock trial final round was heard before Judge Jacqueline Arroyo on February 28, 2013 in the Old Courthouse’s majestic Department 17. Willow Glen High School emerged victorious after narrowly defeating finalist Monta Vista High School. The 2013 semifinalists were Archbishop Mitty High School and Los Gatos High School. The 2013 quarterfinalists were Gunderson, Lynbrook, Sobrato and Leigh High Schools.

I first encountered the mock trial program many years ago as a student at Leland High School in south San Jose. At the age of sixteen, I was less interested in the vocational aspect of mock trial and more interested in finding a sense of belonging. Mock trial gave me an instant connection to students I otherwise would have never met. For me and many others, mock trial served as a cultural canopy, providing refuge from the self-conscious world of rigid high school cliques. My teammates were supportive and encouraging. We embraced the challenge of understanding witnesses, formulating arguments, and constructing case narratives. Through mock trial, I learned that good lawyers, at their core, are good storytellers.

My coach was a local attorney named Jim Scharf. Jim embodied that rare combination of insight, passion and humor. As a high school senior, I had the privilege of conducting the direct examination of my younger brother, Patrick Hammon. Patrick portrayed a French detective with his own unique brand of je ne sais quoi. With Jim Scharf’s tutelage, Patrick would later lead Leland High School to its only county championship.

In 2004, I returned to San Jose as an associate at a local law firm. I received an email from then-future Bar Association President Mark Shem, asking if I would be interested in serving as a mock trial coach. Over the years, Mark had transformed Lynbrook High School into a veritable mock trial juggernaut. With four county championships, Lynbrook had become one of Santa Clara County’s most successful mock trial programs.

After reading Mark’s email, I decided to reintroduce mock trial to Leland High School. Coaching gave me the opportunity to work with my youngest brother, Cory Hammon. Cory quickly became a mock trial superstar like his older brother Patrick. For seven years, I served as the attorney coach for Leland’s mock trial team. Teaching high school students gave me a sense of self-fulfillment. I used stick figures and pop culture references to explain the California Rules of Evidence. I enjoyed humanizing the characters described in the mock trial materials. There are few things more rewarding than teaching a high school student to empathize with a criminal defendant or a victim of violent crime.

More recently, I have handled the administrative side of mock trial, serving as the Chair of the Bar Association’s Law Related Education (“LRE”) Committee (2010-2011) and the Tournament Administrator (2012-present). In these capacities, I have gained a tremendous appreciation for our Santa Clara County judges who preside over the mock trial rounds, and our attorneys who volunteer their time to serve as scorers. Current LRE Committee Chair Josh Gilliland exemplifies the spirit of volunteerism critical to the sustainability of our mock trial program. Not only does Josh oversee tournament logistics, he also coaches Santa Clara High School’s mock trial team. Josh describes his experience with mock trial as “positive” and “rewarding.” Deputy District Attorney Johnny Gogo has also served a vital role in recruiting scorers for each round. Johnny has become so valuable to the program, the annual volunteer appreciation award has been renamed the “Johnny Gogo Award.”

On a personal note, I discharged my 2013 mock duties while on a seven-week paternity leave graciously authorized by my supervisors at the Santa Clara County Counsel’s Office. My four-month old son, Elijah, was often forced to join me at the Downtown Superior Courthouse. I introduced Elijah to Josh Gililand, Mark Shem, Jim Scharf, and several others. I was pleased to learn that Jim now coaches the Willow Glen High School team, our 2013 county champion. Jim now coaches his sons Jeremy, Jordan, and Mason. Jim says they have “forged a new-found understanding and respect for one another” through mock trial. I remember practicing mock trial objections many years ago at Jim’s home, when his then-infant children were just learning to crawl. With their talent and poise, Jeremy, Jordan, and Mason have each left an indelible mark on the mock trial program. Perhaps one day the Scharf boys will return to the mock trial program as attorney or teacher coaches- this time, with Elijah as their pupil.

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