Inside the Bakersfield Federal Courthouse on Thursday, a trial played out very similar to a scandal that has rocked some famous Hollywood celebrities.
An actress and mother allegedly paid her way to get false test scores, doctor’s notes and letters of recommendation so her daughter could get into a prestigious school.
Only this is not exactly the college admissions scandal involving actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin. The people in this case are made up, and it is all part of an international mock trial championship in which one local student will participate.
Aleyna Young, a senior at Centennial High School, will be competing with 43 of the best mock trial students from around the world this weekend in Newport Beach at the Gladiator Championships.
“I’m super-excited to do mock trial,” she said. “I really just want to get more experience because it’s something I want to do in college, too.”
She joined the mock trial team her freshman year, where she was selected to be an attorney and got to meet her “family.”
“I was always into speech and debate. Freshman year, I went in for Centennial’s orientation and I was looking for speech and debate and it was nowhere to be found,” she said. “Someone representing mock trial presented … and my mouth was open. I thought, ‘This is something I have to do.'”
The Gladiator competition is a one-on-one competition. Instead of normally only playing as an attorney or witness, students play every role and they have to put together an entire case as a prosecution attorney, prosecution witness, defense attorney and defense witness.
After four trials, the two highest-scoring competitors square off as attorneys in the championship round. The winner is crowned best in the world.
Last year, Young was selected to be a witness alternate. By a stroke of luck, judges called her at 5 a.m. informing her a Gladiator was unable to compete and she had to fill in. She had to write an entire prosecution and defense case that day.
“I’m very glad I actually have time to prepare for this one,” she said, laughing.
In the mock trial case, a made-up famous actress, Mel Tam, the defendant, is being charged with paying a fraudulent consulting business to falsify ACT test scores and bribe college coaches so her daughter could get into college. It is an exact mirror of Loughlin’s case, Young said.
She has been preparing for the case the past month with help from her mock trial teammates and coach Brett Dobson, tennis coach Craig Morley, defense attorney Leanne Wilder and Magistrate Judge Jennifer L. Thurston.
On Thursday, they were giving her a few pointers to keep in mind while presenting as the prosecution attorney.
“It felt like you were preaching and it was too rehearsed,” Morley said. “It’s better when you’re making eye contact and are emotional.”
One of the more difficult roles for her has been the prosecution attorney. She has played the defense attorney in every case except one in previous mock trials, so she got used to “poking holes into the prosecution’s case.”
“I wouldn’t say it wasn’t something that I didn’t like because I love being an attorney no matter what it was, but it was something I had to work harder for,” she said. “For the prosecution, they’re tying everything together, and I’m usually the one untying everything.”
Whatever happens this weekend, Young will enjoy making connections with other mock trial students and preparing for her future. To no surprise, she wants to be a district attorney and her dream job is to be a judge.
After the competition Sunday, she is going to Furman University in Greenville, S.C., to learn more about mock trial.
“This is all just good practice for whatever happens,” she said.
Photo: Centennial High School senior Aleyna Young and Judge Jennifer Thurston stand outside her courtroom Thursday at the Bakersfield Federal Courthouse. Thurston has worked with Young as she has prepared for this weekend’s mock trial Gladiator Championships.
EMA SASIC firstname.lastname@example.org
Ema Sasic can be reached at 661-395-7392. Follow her on Twitter: @ema_sasic.