By Rosemary McClure ‘13 & Lily Foss ‘13Staff Writers
On campus, the latest string of 80-degree days has produced full lawns, a happenin’ pool scene at the Field House and impromptu volleyball games at Pomona. In me, it has produced a fetid amalgamation of fury and spite as I waste away in the over-air conditioned HUM 105 discussing the finer points of strict liability versus negligence per se. “For what?” you may ask. For mock trial, peeps.
It’s business time for Scripps’s two mock trial teams, for whom the season is ramping up in preparation for the 2011 Regional Tournament. Prepare to see a lot of hottie undergrads in suits roaming campus during Family Weekend, as regionals will be hosted by our very own CMC on Feb. 19 and 20—though the actual trials will not take place on campus. Scripps’s two teams will be competing against schools such as UCLA, Stanford, Arizona State, USC and Pomona.
This year’s case is a civil product liability suit involving a toy that allegedly caused the death of a two-year-old. It is based on a real-life scandal involving Bindeez, an Australian toy. After officials discovered that at least two children had fallen into non-responsive comas after ingesting large numbers of the beads, over 4 million units of the toy were recalled.
Scripps’ mock trial program is unique, not only because it is made up wholly of women, but also because most of us are not preparing for law school. As such, we face unique challenges when competing, not the least of which is sexism. The mock trial environment is one that lends itself all too well to sexism. Much of it stems from the same attitudes that create bias against women in professions such as law. Many of our judges are middle-aged or retired lawyers who have practiced law for ages. As such, they can have some pretty limiting ideas about how women should look and behave.
Double standards abound. Let the witness wiggle a bit too much during cross examination and the judge is liable to give you a low score. Try to keep them under control and you end up with comments like “too masculine” or “bitchy” scribbled on your score sheets at the end of the day. Women have to be feminine (i.e. heels, nylons, make-up, nonaggressive behavior) yet conform to a male standard of professionalism (tied-back hair, non-visible makeup, conservative suit and jewelry). When judges feel you don’t perform gender correctly, they mark you down.
As far as actual team make-up goes, Scripps Team A captain Lily Foss (’13) has been taking notes on the teams we face in competition for some now. She notes that men on the teams are more likely to be attorneys and women are more likely to be witnesses. Sympathetic witnesses like the plaintiff in this year’s case (a grieving mother) are usually women and are usually cross-examined by a woman from the other team. The closing statement, a summation and reiteration of each side’s important arguments, is almost always delivered by a man. “I’m guessing that pattern exists because it’s in the closing argument that all the intensity and argumentativeness of the trial is supposed to come to a head, and the perception is that judges will take a man more seriously in that role.” Foss is glad to be on an all-female team where these gender politics don’t exist. Being a consistently high-scoring female closer, she shows that women can deliver compelling closing arguments.
So if you aren’t doing it to get into law school and you’re systematically discriminated against, why do it? I asked of Megan Fenton (’12). “Because I’m a masochist,” she joked. “No but really. I actually wasn’t interested in law when I joined. But now I want to be a criminal defense lawyer.” Others feel mock trial has turned them off of law as a future career. But Scripps mockers agree that mock trial provides a unique opportunity to combine and develop their interdisciplinary skills. Learning to present complex and technical information verbally, developing a theme to one’s argument, public speaking and group work in high-pressure situations, selling something that is totally fabricated, improvisation and gritting your teeth when you are being critiqued by someone who is a total jerk are all useful skills in life, college and a professional environment. So when that opinionated girl in your history class protests that your contribution contains hearsay or is speculative, give her a break—and take comfort in the fact that it will soon be over. Right after we win nationals.