Cal Poly Collegiate Mock Trial

When John W. Fricks, the godfather of Mock Trial in San Luis Obispo County suggests to you that you might write an article on Cal Poly collegiate Mock Trial, well then that’s what you do. I’ve had the privilege of being an instructor for Cal Poly’s Political Science Department for the past few years. This 2022-23 season will be my third year as Cal Poly Mock Trial Club’s (“CPMT”) faculty advisor.

In my capacity as faculty advisor, I instruct POLS 295 (Foundations of Mock Trial) and POLS 395 (Advanced Mock Trial). I also assist the CPMT board in the organization of their home invitational mock trial tournament. This year CPMT will host its first annual SLO-Town Hoedown Tournament January 28th-29th, 2023. As part of the preparation, we are looking for local judges and attorneys to act as Presiding Judges and Scoring Attorneys for our tournament. If you would be interested in helping, please read on to learn more about Mock Trial and CPMT!

CPMT is a Cal Poly sanctioned student driven Instructionally Related Activity (“IRA”). Each year CPMT assembles a new Board of Directors that organizes the club’s activity. Last year CPMT had approximately 80 students from a wide variety of majors participate and compete on four different mock trial teams at American Mock Trial Association’s (“AMTA”) Regional Tournament(s). Many of our CPMT members also coach local high school and middle school mock trial teams!

What is AMTA Mock Trial? AMTA is a national collegiate mock trial organization (see Last year, approximately 300 Universities fielded roughly 650 teams to compete through AMTA. Last year, CPMT qualified the maximum of two teams to the Opening Round Championship Series (ORCS) and sent one team to the National Championship Tournament. Our 2022-23 season began on August 15, 2022, when AMTA released their “closed universe” set of materials for this year’s competition. AMTA case materials alternate year-to-year from criminal to civil. Last year was a felony arson case in which a first responder lost their life. This year we have a wrongful death case, Felder vs. KC Air LLC.

Two lawyers go up in a single-engine plane in bad weather on the 4th of July…what could go wrong?

AMTA Mock Trial is similar to but different from high school mock trial. AMTA Mock Trial is a simulation of a jury trial where students portray attorneys and witnesses. The trial takes place in the fictional jurisdiction of Midlands, which has its own Case Law, Statutes, Rules of Evidence (derived from Federal Rules of Evidence), Special Institutions, Stipulations and Pre-Trial Rulings from the Court. Within the “closed universe” of materials, there are a wide variety of different cases to be tried. Each side gets to select three witnesses to present their case (six total witnesses). But there are more than six witnesses to choose from in the AMTA materials! There is a witness selection order. Some of the witnesses are constrained and can only be called by one side. Other witnesses are up for grabs in the pre-trial selection process. Thus, there is a good deal of strategy in witness selection. As a result, Presiding Judges and Scoring Attorneys will hear a wide variety of cases and theories within those cases in the same tournament.

AMTA Mock Trial is also different in that AMTA promotes the use of theatre with respect to their lay witnesses. This results in a good deal of humor and fun! AMTA interjects a great deal of science into each year’s problem. Last year it was the science of arson, this year it’s the science of aviation. The technical science comes in through the direct and cross-examination of expert witnesses.

There are effectively two seasons in AMTA Mock Trial. The first half (Fall Quarter) is the invitational season where universities host tournaments for other schools. In this first half of the season, CPMT will have their more experienced members operate as team captains. As a result, the talent and experience are spread across the entire program. Our structure encourages the art and practice of student leadership; experienced CPMT members work with and teach less experienced team members to create amazing dynamic teams.

Then we have a mid-season pause. It’s time for the second half of the season (Winter Quarter). AMTA will modify the materials considering analytics from the invitational season. Facts change, witness testimony will change and indeed there may be new witnesses added; it’s Felder vs. KC Air LLC, the 2.0 version!

With this pause, all Universities will “stack” their teams starting with an “A” team. Last year CPMT fielded an A, B, C & D team. Thus, new teams are formed, now working with a highly modified set of materials. All the designated teams will have the opportunity to compete at Regionals. Nationally, approximately 30% of teams will advance from Regionals to ORCS and from there, 7% to the National Tournament.

CPMT will host its SLO-Town Hoedown the weekend of January 28th-29th, 2023. To put on the best tournament possible, CPMT needs local judges and attorneys to act as Presiding Judges and Scoring Attorneys. The tournament will take place on Cal Poly’s campus! Volunteers will preside over and/or score at least one of the four trials that will take place on Saturday and Sunday of that weekend. If you are interested in participating, please contact CPMT Vice President Jessica Smith at for more information. Thank you in advance for your support of CPMT!

By Todd A. Porter and the Mock Trial Board of Directors

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