September 20, 2018 | ° F

Rutgers Mock trial A-Team wins tournament

Photo by Photo illustration by Edwin Gano |

Three teams from the Rutgers University Mock Trial Association competed in the Happy Valley Invitational Tournament last weekend.

When other universities’ mock trial teams chose who they wanted to face at the Happy Valley Invitational tournament last weekend, Gregory Doukas noticed something odd: Everyone avoided Rutgers.

“The first 12 names out of the hat had the option of challenging a team, and as the names got picked off the list, people just, no matter what, stayed away from us,” said Doukas, captain of the A-Team. “Not a single team wanted to challenge us.”

By the end of the tournament, Rutgers had justified other schools’ reticence. The A-Team, composed of the club’s most advanced students, won first place. The B-Team placed fifth.

The A-Team defeated Georgetown University, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and George Washington University, among others, leading them to the trophy.

Doukas, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, was responsible for picking which opponents to face.

“The top three teams [I wanted] were all teams who went to the national championships before,” he said. “Because we wanted to win, we weren’t fooling around — we wanted to go straight for it.”

Rutgers was not given the opportunity to choose, Doukas said, but ended up facing many of the same teams anyway. His calculations were correct: the A-Team won the title with a 7 to 1 record.

Three separate teams — A, B and C — competed under the umbrella of Rutgers University Mock Trial Association at Pennsylvania State University, which hosted the tournament.

Craig Aronow, one of the club’s coaches, said the A-Team exceeded his expectations.

“I thought that this year was a rebuilding year. … We have one freshman and three sophomores [on the A-Team],” said Aronow, a professional attorney. “So it’s a very young team.”

After the first day of competition, the B-Team placed first in the overall pool, well ahead of the A-Team.

“[Aronow] was going to let us have it,” Doukas said.

Each team has three attorneys, three witnesses and one extra member who can be called upon if necessary. Because interest in mock trial was so high this year, the B and C teams each had a few more members who sat on the sidelines, Aronow said.

Each participant plays multiple roles, Doukas said. For example, one person can be a lawyer when their team acts as the prosecution and a witness when it acts as the defense.

For each person, then, time management when preparing for the tournament is crucial.

“It is always a compressed amount of time,” Aronow said. “The [case] came out Aug. 15, and they met over the summer. They look forward to Aug. 15 every year like some people look forward to New Year’s or their birthday.”

As captain, Doukas is responsible for managing the A-Team’s practices.

“It’s incredible how hard they work,” he said. “We just work so hard and that really takes care of the rest.”

Greg Cui, president of the club said it added a good crop of students this year.

“We did a lot of recruiting, and they all earned their spots,” he said. “I’m really proud of them.”

Cui, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, joined the club as a sophomore — just in time to see Rutgers place second in the nation out of 650 teams two years ago.

He vividly remembers when he and the rest of the B-Team traveled to a competition in California and came within one point of defeating then reigning national champion University of California, Los Angeles’s A-Team.

“They called us ‘The Scrappers’ because we didn’t know enough technique, but we just gave it our all,” Cui said. “Anything we heard in practice we threw out there. … It was the best worst feeling I’ve ever had.”

Though Rutgers is a large university and saw a substantial uptick in enrollment this year, Aronow said its mock trial team is only average-sized.

Most members intend to pursue a law degree after college, but Aronow said a significant minority intends to pursue other postgraduate endeavors. About half of the members had not been on a mock trial team in high school.

“It’s almost even — the number of people that have done it in high school and those who haven’t,” Aronow said. “We have people who are going to engineering grad school [or] medical school.”

Still, Doukas dismissed the threat of more prestigious schools. Harvard University, for example, won last year’s Happy Valley Invitational.

“A lot of the Ivies are very good,” he said. “A lot of times we beat them — oftentimes we do beat them.”

Rutgers Mock Trial was founded in 2005, and only six years later, it managed to finish second in the nation. Doukas attributed much of the team’s rapid success to outstanding coaching.

“Our coaching staff is fantastic,” he said. “We have a larger coaching staff this year than we’ve ever had, a lot of assistant coaches and a ton of law students.”

This year’s members have reason to look up to their forebears. Two former members enrolled in Harvard Law School — one was the salutatorian of her class at St. John’s Law School and another is clerking for the Chief Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court.

Cui and Doukas aspire to join that distinguished caste. The former has applied for a Fulbright Scholarship and is eyeing the most prestigious law schools in the country. The latter is looking at a similar tier and will take the LSAT exam in December.

Aronow believes they are sufficiently prepared.

“They came to watch me try a case last week,” he said. “They would have given me a better fight than the real lawyers that were on the other side.”

By Charlie Melman

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