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Palm Desert High School advances in Riverside County Mock Trial Competition, local students honored

Riverside County Office of Education

High school teams from Corona, Murrieta, Palm Desert, Riverside and Temecula will match wits and attempt their best legal maneuvering Thursday for a chance to win the title in the Riverside County Mock Trial Competition.

The 42nd annual event got underway during the last week of January at the Larson Justice Center in Indio, the Southwest Justice Center in Murrieta and the Riverside Hall of Justice.

Since then, the field of competitors has narrowed to eight teams -- Chaparral High School in Temecula, MLK High School in Riverside, Murrieta Valley High School, Notre Dame High School in Riverside, Palm Desert High School, Poly High School in Riverside, Santiago High School in Corona and Temecula Valley High School.  

The "Elite Eight Round" will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Riverside Hall of Justice. The semifinals will follow with four teams on Feb. 20, and the final round is scheduled for Feb. 23 at the Riverside Historic
Courthouse.

Murrieta Valley High won the competition for the first time last year.   

Nearly 400 students from 22 high schools started in the county's mock trials this year, according to the Office of Education. The contest returned to in-person meets instead of virtual ones in 2023 after the public school system rescinded COVID-driven restrictions on gatherings that were in place during the 2021 and 2022 events. The 2020 competition was held prior to the school closures.  

Several students were honored with awards, including four from the Coachella Valley.

From L to R:
1st Place – Gold Medal: Alexia Leija, Palm Desert High School
3rd Place – Bronze Medal: Heaven Ortiz, Indio High School
1st Place – Gold Medal: Leela Fayssoux, Palm Desert High School
1st Place – Gold Medal: Tess Abedi, Palm Desert High School

The Office of Education, in partnership with the Constitutional Rights Foundation, Riverside County Bar Association and the Superior Court, sponsor the competition annually. The county began holding student-level mock trials in 1983. More than 14,000 youths have participated since then, according to organizers.

News Channel 3's Bianca Ventura was at the Mock Trial Competition in Indio this year, speaking with students and a judge who took part in the competition several years ago.

This year's contest has challenged participants to successfully argue the fictitious case of People v. Clark, involving the murder of a medical components chief executive officer. The made-up character was discovered stabbed to death in her hotel room, prompting accusations of possible family conflicts leading to the killing, or even corporate espionage. Students have been tasked with analyzing forensic evidence, the legality of warrants and other matters during the trials.

Teams consisting of eight to 25 students play the parts of deputy district attorneys, defense attorneys, bailiffs, witnesses, clerks and investigators. Contestants are given an allotted time, generally four to six minutes, at each stage of a proceeding, including opening and closing statements and cross-examinations.   

Practicing attorneys and judges assess students' performance, awarding points in accordance with criteria established for the contest.   

Students from public and private high schools are permitted to take part.   

The 2024 championship team will represent the county in the California Mock Trial Competition on March 22-24 in Los Angeles.

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