Baylor Law School Mock Trial Team Crowned National Champions at National Trial Competition

News Photo 4670
Back row (L to R): Tim Goines, Robert Little and Joel Bailey. Front row (L to R): Crystal Y'Barbo, Kendall Cockrell Eric Policastro. Not pictured: Gerald Powell.
March 31, 2009

Contact: Julie Carlson, Baylor Law School, (254) 710-6681

A Baylor Law School mock trial team won the prestigious National Trial Competition, sponsored by the American College of Trial Lawyers and hosted by the Texas Young Lawyers Association in San Antonio over the weekend. The team of Joel Bailey and Eric Policastro beat a University of Kentucky team in the finals on March 28 and was crowned National Champions at an awards reception that night.

In earlier rounds, Baylor defeated Stanford University, Suffolk University, the University of Georgia, Loyola of Chicago and Loyola of Los Angeles.

"We have been working non-stop on mock trial for so many months, but to be able to hold that trophy and call yourself a champion made it all worth it," Policastro said.

The Baylor team was coached by Waco attorney and adjunct professor Robert Little and Gerald Powell, The Abner V. McCall Professor of Evidence Law and director of the Practice Court Program at Baylor Law School. Law student Crystal Y'Barbo served as evidence coach.

Another Baylor team, Tim Goines and Kendall Cockrell, who were regional co-champions with Bailey and Policastro, also represented Baylor well at the national finals.

"Baylor Law winning the ACTL National Trial Competition is a wonderful accomplishment for our students and our school, and emphasizes how Baylor produces lawyers who are ready for the practice of law," said Baylor Law Dean Brad Toben. "This win confirms Baylor's recognition as a national power and reinforces the benefits of our practical approach to legal education, particularly our rigorous trial advocacy and Practice Court program."

The NTC is the largest and oldest of the mock trial competitions. Approximately 300 teams from across the United States competed at the regional and national level. At the national finals, the 28 regional winners were judged primarily by Fellows of the American College of Trial Lawyers.

"They came in from all over the country just to judge these trials," Powell said. "It was as elite and well-qualified an array of judges as could possibly be convened. In the final round, held in the United States Courthouse in San Antonio, there were 12 American College judges sitting in the jury box to decide the winner. The faint of heart would be dumb-struck by the array of legal talent on the jury."

How Mock Trial Works

Competitors at the national tournament tried a fictional criminal case in which a lawyer was on trial for murdering a judge. The teams received the case on Feb. 25 and practiced almost daily in the month leading up to the tournament.

The teams switched roles between prosecution and defense throughout the tournament depending on their assignment. During the competition, new evidence was twice added to the case by competition officials to give competitors an additional challenge, including an exhibit introduced just 90 minutes before the final round that hurt the prosecution. During the final round, Baylor represented the state.

"It was a difficult case for the prosecution to make," Bailey said. "There was reasonable doubt all over the problem, which presented a difficult issue for the prosecution side. As a result, we tried to make the prosecution side as compelling and believable as possible. I thought Eric's closing argument pulled it all together at the end to make for a persuasive case."

Powell applauded the skill of both team members.

"They were well-prepared, professional, polished, poised and tried a better case than most licensed lawyers would," he said. "The judges literally hung on every word, and could not say enough complimentary things about them after it was over."

Team Shows 'Grit'

Powell added that Bailey had lost his voice after Thursday's two trials and still felt the effects of a sore and scratchy throat for the next two days - four more trials. Powell said Bailey could barely talk, but "he went on with determination and real grit. He shook it off and performed superbly, and the judges loved him for it."

Powell lauded Policastro for trying the final round "like a veteran of years in practice."

"He was sincere and credible. On cross-examination he was relentless. And his closing argument was just plain powerful," Powell said. "The American College lawyer who chaired the National Trial Competition Committee even quoted him in his address at the awards banquet. He and Joel will continue to make us proud for many years to come."

Powell praised Y'Barbo for her thorough legal research and for putting the evidence arguments together for the team. He also said the work of Little made the team the success it was. A Baylor Law alumnus, Little was a member of the 2005 American Trial Lawyers Association National Championship team. He coached Baylor law teams that won the Michigan State Trial Advocacy Competition in October 2008 and also coached the two Baylor teams at the regional tournament of the National Trial Competition. He practices at the Waco firm Naman, Howell, Smith and Lee.

"He really got our guys ready," Powell said. "They were as well prepared as any Baylor mock trial team has ever been. Robert is a brilliant tactician. He works well with our young lawyers. How many ways can I say how lucky we are to have him coaching these teams?"

Prepared by 'Practice Court'

Bailey and Policastro praised both their coaches.

"I can tell you this for sure: you better bring your 'A' game when you are trying a case in front of them, because if you don't, they do not have a problem letting you know about it," Policastro said. "Robert has worked with us since the regional competition, which was around December. He has logged countless hours with us, and he truly has a way of clearly communicating exactly what he expects out of us. Robert is a proven champion.

"Professor Powell taught us how to be trial lawyers. He took us from knowing absolutely nothing about advocacy at the start of Practice Court to being national champions eight months later. Practice Court taught us everything we know, and we are so lucky to be taught by Professor Powell. He wants nothing more than to win, and he wants us to succeed."

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