Seth Williams had never heard of mock trial before joining his Pacific Beach Continuation High School team this year.
But the 17-year-old received the loudest ovation of any individual award winner from the crowd of 275 students, parents and attorneys when he took this year’s top defense lawyer title at the annual mock trial competition.
San Luis Obispo High School won the county’s team high school competition, and Judkins Middle School in Pismo Beach took the middle school event in Thursday night’s finals.
With a chuckle revealing a fondness for her student, Pacific Beach teacher and coach Melissa Newman described Williams as having a sharp intellect and personality that’s “irrepressible” at times.
“He has a quick wit,” Newman said. “And he calls them like he sees them. Those qualities helped make him extremely effective in the courtroom. I’m very proud of him.”
In mock trial, students simulate an actual court trial by playing the roles of lawyers, witnesses, bailiffs, artists and journalists.
Williams was among the 250 students from 13 high schools and middle schools in the county who entered this year. About 125 professional judges, attorneys and commissioners volunteered as coaches, judges or scorers.
San Luis Obispo High defeated nine-time champion Templeton High in Thursday night’s finals. Judkins earned its third consecutive team victory in the middle school category.
“Our attorney coaches helped us so much, and doing this in front of real judges and lawyers, it really made me consider a career as a lawyer,” Williams said.
This year’s cyber-bullying case involved an alleged assault and battery. The students used a fictional set of facts and some real-life laws that attorneys employ to argue their cases.
“In light of what has been going on around the world concerning cyber-bullying, this has been an incredible learning experience for all the kids,” said Mike Liebo, a teacher coach at Judkins.
The ceremony after the finals marked the culmination of months of demanding intellectual work, and the students really let loose, especially when Williams’ name was called, said John Fricks, a San Luis Obispo lawyer who helped organize the event.
“It’s a raucous celebration that captures the spirit of the academic competition,” Fricks said. “Seth’s was certainly the loudest ovation.”
Williams said he was “shocked” when his name was called.
“Honestly, dude, I thought I might get honorable mention, but I wasn’t really expecting it,” he said.
San Luis Obispo High will represent the county at the state championships in Riverside from March 25 to 27.
Courtroom artist Jasen Friedle and courtroom journalist Ben Lowerison will represent the county at the state as well. They’re both Templeton High students.