UST Students Get a Lesson in the Law
University of St. Thomas prelaw students will experience the judicial system first-hand as they compete against 12 schools in the American Mock Trial Association’s Southern Regional Mock Trial Tournament on Feb. 23 and 24 in Dallas. This is the second time UST has participated in the event.
This year, 11 students will play the roles of attorney or witness in a criminal trial. The participants are separated into two groups—prosecution and defense. The defense advocates are Chance McMillan, Robert Andrade and Elizabeth Oaxaca. Their witnesses include Jessica Spofford, Emily Cook and Katherine Taylor. Advocates for the prosecution side will be Jeff Yurcak, Jared Jordan and Emily Cook, with witnesses played by Joe Konkel, Steven Vaughn and Merari Zambrano.
UST adjunct professor and practicing attorney Jeremy Heallen is the team’s head coach while his wife, Lisa Linney, also an attorney, serves as an assistant coach. Additional volunteers include attorneys Kelly Heallen and Jason Cox. Rick Young, associate professor of political science, is the faculty adviser.
Linney said she works with the students to develop their forensic skills and coaches them on how to best present their arguments and how to question the witnesses.
“I tell them where to stand in relation to their witnesses in order to emphasize important information that the witnesses are giving,” Linney said. “The lawyer’s presentation has to be interesting. It has to grab your attention. It’s a performance.”
Heallen and Linney helped coach the students in the 2007 competition. That year, the team narrowly missed participating in the national tournament by one ballot, which is, according to Young, “pretty impressive,” considering UST's one team was up against larger universities with at least two teams. This year, he said, he hopes UST makes it to the nationals.
All competitors were assigned the same court case, chosen by the American Mock Trial Association. This year’s case involves a female social worker who was stabbed with an HIV-infected needle. The defendant has already been found guilty of infecting her and opposing teams are arguing to determine his punishment. The AMTA has dedicated the case to the early pioneers of AIDS research.
Participation in the mock trial event is the prelaw capstone experience. Last year, more than 80 percent of UST prelaw students who applied to law school were accepted. The tournament is sponsored by Southern Methodist University.
Back row l to r: Emily Cook, Jared Jordan, Merari Zambrano; front row l to r: Jeff Yurcak, Jessica Spofford, Elizabeth Oaxaca and Robert Andrande. Students not pictured: Chance McMillan, Joe Konkel, Katherine Taylor