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  • Jeslyn Oum '24

Legal Outlaws: SI Mock Trial Banned In San Francisco

Mock Trial members gather for a scrimmage

The bang of a gavel. The distinct voices of rehearsed and practiced students. The rustle of papers. The presence of these sounds pervades the rooms for all those involved in Mock Trial. As a newly formed extracurricular at SI, Mock Trial has not only educated fellow Wildcats on the procedures of real courtrooms, but also enlightened participants on the behind-the-scenes processes of attorneys and witnesses. Mr. Devitt, who previously coached Mock Trial at Menlo High School for over 20 years, has been a substantial help with the formation of this extracurricular team and the success of the club at SI.

Unknown to many, another voice influences SI’s mock trial team. The Bar Association of San Francisco (BASF), a non profit legal professional organization that aims to serve citizens, also manages Mock Trial in the county of San Francisco. A longstanding policy of BASF prohibits independent and private schools from participating in official county competitions or being recognized by BASF as a competing team

“Banned in San Francisco.”

For many outsiders, this statement may be confusing or irrelevant, but for St. Ignatius’s Mock Trial team, this saying has become a focal point since its formation last school year. When the coaches at SI first heard of the regulation prohibiting private school participation, they began a long and tireless journey to amend these rules and to understand the reasoning behind their formation. When approached for commentary regarding this policy, Executive Director of the Justice and Diversity Center at BASF, Yolanda Jackson, did not respond.

At the moment, San Francisco is currently the only county in California to have a participation policy based on school type. With six public high school teams currently participating in SF, these competitions provide those students with the learning opportunities and preparation required to compete at regional and national levels. SI’s mock trial team is currently the only active team in California unable to compete due to these rules.

The reasoning behind BASF’s decision is stated to be a matter of equity. Mock trial is a program offered by the Justice and Diversity Center and therefore the inclusion of private or independent schools’ participation in competitions is thought to hinder public school’s ability to compete, due to private school’s heightened access to resources. Also, BASF has stated that they currently lack the assets necessary to accommodate any other schools that may want to compete. In response, SI has attempted to create a dialogue with BASF and aid in closing the resource gap between private and public high schools. Last school year, SI coaches also organized a body of experts to help build a different organization to govern Mock Trial in San Francisco in the case that BASF may step down. However, this solution fell through but the SI team has continued to move forward.

Seeking Compromise with Shared Spaces

When asked about the course of action made by SI to further amend these rules, mock trial coach Kevin Harris stated, “The coaches have looked at as many creative solutions as possible to try and solve this situation and formulate a resolution that everyone (including other competing teams) would be comfortable with.” In conversation with BASF, SI proposed a separate private school league to compete against the winner of a public school league, but received pushback from the organization as well as public school coaches. SI’s continued persistence to change the policy has been met with concern from these coaches as they too believe the economic and resource gap to be inequitable.

Although SI’s resources are no secret and could potentially provide an advantage over public high schools, the coaches have expressed an interest in sharing with these teams through open practices and more. Recently, SI formed “round robin” scrimmages with local competing teams like Lowell to help them prepare for their official matches and rehearse their cases.

Furthermore, SI opened its doors a few weeks ago to more public school teams for a mock trial workshop that included speakers from the legal profession such as Deputy District Attorney Nancy Tung. This opportunity gave students the chance to ask questions regarding careers in criminal law and receive advice on how to best work a courtroom. As our coaches aim to network and help other teams in the country, students from Lincoln and Wallenberg High School attended this event alongside SI’s members.

Many students at SI joined Mock Trial with the intent of learning more about law as a potential career. BASF’s policy has slightly hindered the knowledge and practice that they would receive from an official county competition against other city teams. Nonetheless, as this organization has reasoned, economic background does play a role in the factors impacting high school mock trial in San Francisco. SI Mock Trial aims to continue the journey towards making positive changes and influencing the gap between independent or private institutions with public ones. As San Francisco hopefully progresses to join every other county in California involved with Mock Trial, SI community members anticipate cheering on fellow wildcats as they compete in the upcoming years.

Jeslyn Oum '24 is an Associate Editor-in-Chief and Managing Editor for the Feature Section

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