The (Virtual) Courtroom


Kyle Lobenhofer

The Thousand Oaks High School mock trial team has prepared to compete at the county level since Oct., and kicked off their competition against Newbury Park High School Thursday, Feb. 18 and Channel Islands High School Friday, Feb. 19.

Members of the Thousand Oaks High School mock trial team have spent the better part of a semester analyzing the fake case of the People of California v. Croddy in an effort to present the most persuasive argument in competition. This year’s case has a YouTube personality on trial for aiding and abetting one of their fans in a burglary and being an accessory after the fact.

Each year, the team studies the case and prepares both a prosecution case and defense case to compete with. The team is divided into the prosecution and defense team. While both sides are on the same team, they work in opposition to each other to prepare their case.

Each team has four witnesses and two to three attorneys. It is the witness’ job to memorize the facts of their witness statement and be able to answer questions about them. The attorneys write questions that will elicit the facts that help their case and avoid the facts that harm it.

The team often has what are referred to as “in-house” scrimmages where the prosecution and defense argue their case against one another in an effort to get a feel for how competitions will work. These scrimmages also allow for the prosecution to hear what arguments the defense may present against them and vice versa, which helps further arguments by allowing for rebuttals to be prepared.

Like with all other programs, the mock trial team was forced to practice and compete virtually this year, which presented some challenges.

“At first, it was hard to get used to doing mock trial online, especially when we were trying to recruit members without being present at school,” team captain Brett Rauchsaid. “It became easier as we got used to doing practice online. There has definitely been opportunities from past years we had to miss out on this year, but I think we’ve done a good job at working our way up to the same standards set by the team every other year.”

In the virtual format, exhibits are shown to the court via the Zoom screen share feature, the attorneys and witnesses who are not speaking must keep their cameras and microphones off, and the competitions can be watched through a YouTube livestream. 

Like with virtual classes, technology is sometimes unreliable. If a witness’s computer audio is not working, it makes it difficult for the court to hear them and for them to hear the question being asked. This is especially problematic given the limited time allowed for witness examinations in competition.

“I think that it can be difficult to deal with as there isn’t a system in place to stop timing when a witness is having audio issues unless they specify so,” senior Burke Mayling said. “It can be far too easy for a witness to burn time, asking an attorney to repeat themselves over and over again, and there isn’t really any consequence for it, even though that would be considered foul play in an in-person setting.

Despite the issues, virtual practices and competitions do have their benefits. The virtual setting has made viewing competitions more accessible to family and friends of team members. Instead of having to drive to the Ventura County Courthouse to watch a competition, spectators can simply click a YouTube live stream link, making viewing accessible to relatives outside of Ventura County. Similarly, practices have been made easier to attend. Rather than driving to the Thousand Oaks High School campus, team members only log into a Zoom meeting.

Overall, the team has found ways to adapt to the current situation and continue to prepare for their competitions, which resume on Monday and Tuesday, Feb. 22 and 23. It may not have been the year the team had pictured, but they have reached the finish line, while still finding enjoyment in the entire preparation process.

“I think it’s fun to see all the different ways that teams portray the same case,” senior Kristina Shea said. “I also like spending time with everyone on the team. I just wish I had joined sooner!”