The Hillsdale mock trial teams performed well at their tournaments on Jan. 26 – 27. Team 1127 placed third out of 40 teams, winning seven out of eight ballots at the 31st Annual National Invitational at Loras College. Team 1126 placed fifth out of 19 teams at the Hoosier Hoedown at Indiana University, the final tournament of their invitational season. Team 1126 had the best invitational season in the history of Hillsdale mock trial.
On team 1126, sophomore Julia Powell earned 20 out of the maximum 20 points for her portrayal of Dr. Willoughby Hawkins, an expert witness for the plaintiff in this year’s American Mock Trial Association test case. Sophomore Mason Aberle earned 19 points as an attorney.
On team 1127, junior Lucas O’Hanian earned a perfect score, also for playing Hawkins, while junior Andrew Simpson earned 20 points as closing attorney for the plaintiff. His performance stands out as he suffered a medical injury en route to the last tournament of the fall semester and could not compete.
“The team really stepped up to the plate at this tournament,” Simpson said. “They did great work.”
This year’s mock trial case tackled the issue of criminal liability. In the scenario, Danny Kosack, who owned and trained a chimpanzee named Elias, faced civil charges after Elias maimed and killed Chris Villafanna, a writer for the late-night television show Midlands After Dark, starring Alex Grace. The show brought Elias on set for an animal act, but Elias became uncontrollable and killed Villafanna. The court case centered on whether Kosack bore responsibility for poorly training a chimpanzee or whether the television studio failed to follow Kosack’s direction, thus relieving Kosack of liability.
Powell, whose character Dr. Hawkins was a primatologist, enjoyed the role of witness. “It’s acting, but at the same time, it’s not,” Powell said. “For an expert witness, you have to be very knowledgeable and know what you’re talking about. It’s a lot of fun because you get to be a certain character and act in that way.”
Once the case is released at the beginning of the year, the mock trial team prepares characters and arguments for trial.
“The case is about a chimpanzee attacking someone,” Powell said. “So I’m looking into the specific training and selection of that chimpanzee and whether that upheld the industry standard.”
Powell stood out by delving deeply into primatology.
“I first try to understand chimpanzees in general and certain characteristics about them, but I’m also focused on certain types of training,” Powell said. “I’ve learned a lot about the neurological processes that go on in the brain of a chimpanzee undergoing certain types of conditioning and the neural basis of that.”
Simpson, who played attorney for both the plaintiff and the defense, enjoyed directing witnesses as an attorney.
“If you have a good attorney-witness system, both will often throw in different case theories on their plan direct,” Simpson said. “So they can trip up the other team with stuff that isn’t planned.”
Both teams are preparing for the upcoming Ypsilanti Regional Tournament at Eastern Michigan University.