By Ashley Salas 3L
Every year, the Texas Young Lawyers Association (TYLA) hosts the National Trial Competition, consisting of 14 regional competitions and one national final competition. This year, Thomas Jefferson School of Law, University of San Diego School of Law, and California Western School of Law co-hosted the 14 Regional competitions in San Diego. The tournament took place Thursday, February 5, 2015, through Sunday, February 8, 2015, at the Hall of Justice and California Western School of Law.
Thomas Jefferson sent two three-member teams: the first team consisted of Sarah Brand 3L, Jeremy Garrett 2L, and Andrew “Drew” Myers 3L; the second team consisted of Joshua Brisbane 2L; Melanie Guillen 2L; and Justin Hall 3L.
Coach Mark Cumba stated, “From meeting with coaches on off days to meeting with each other at 7:00 a.m. every weekday morning, the competitors showed a level of dedication and commitment that will serve them well in their future careers as trial attorneys.” These competitors and their scrimmage teammates had been practicing for this competition since December 2014 and by Thursday, February 5th, they were ready.
Competitor Justin Hall reflected, “Absolutely nothing compares to the moment when you realize your passion, your calling . . . that this is where you belong.”
The first round was held on Thursday evening. During that round two competitors from each three-person team competed against two-person squads from other schools. Altogether 32 teams competed, with 16 trials going simultaneously.
“From Drew’s impeccable ease and Jeremy’s energetic passion, they gave a team performance that the most seasoned attorneys felt the need to applaud,” said Sarah Brand.
The second preliminary round was held on Friday evening with all 32 teams competing again. Only half of the teams would advance to the sweet sixteen. On Friday night, both Thomas Jefferson teams received the word: they advanced!
Coach Cassandra Hearn stated, “I have been involved with the TYLA competition for almost ten years now, kudos to our TJSL teams for advancing in one of America’s toughest trial competitions!”
On Saturday, the quarter-final round and semi-final round were held in the morning and afternoon respectively; only half the teams would advance each round. Competitor Jeremy Garrett reflected, “Drew came through with an incredible performance on Saturday. Sarah had one of the most fierce closings I’ve ever seen from her. She was in the zone.”
During the four-day competition, Thomas Jefferson went up against teams from California Western, Chapman, Pepperdine, Southwestern, and USD. However, only the top-seeded team in the region was able to nudge Thomas Jefferson’s teams out of the regional competition.
By Sunday morning, only four teams remained. TJSL was still in the competition! Justin Hall, Melanie Guillen, and Josh Brisbane won their sweet sixteen round and then eliminated one of Pepperdine’s teams in the semi-final round. Hall, Guillen and Brisbane found themselves in the final round of the 2015 TYLA Region 14 Tournament, and they were up against the 6th highest ranking team in the nation: Loyola Law School.
The winner of this final regional round would advance to the National Trial Competition in Texas. Team TJSL felt up to the challenge and the scores revealed that they were evenly matched with number one seed Loyola. Thomas Jefferson’s and Loyola’s final scores were nearly identical, with TJSL losing a split ballot by a one-point difference.
“Losing the championship round by one point is obviously a disappointment, but losing by just one point to the top-seeded team in the region and the 6th ranked team in the country is a sign that TJSL’s trial team can compete with anyone,” said Coach Mark Cumba.
“After proudly representing my school, TJSL, my proudest moment was standing in the courtroom telling myself, ‘This is where I belong. Right here in this courtroom,’” observed competitor Justin Hall.
Competitor Melanie Guillen reflected, “In my first year being on the team, I have already learned so much and have grown as an advocate and as a student. Trial Team has definitely been the highlight of my law school experience so far, and I cannot wait to continue on the team next year as a 3L.”
The TJSL National Trial Team is coached by Lea Fields-Bernard, Lilys McCoy, Cassandra Hearn, Ryan Forman, and Mark Cumba, all of whom have shown hard work and dedication to the development of the competitors. Coach Mark Cumba observed, “Coach McCoy is doing a phenomenal job of building this program into one that will be recognized by other programs not only regionally, but nationally.” McCoy said, “With adjunct professors Fields-Bernard, Cumba, Hearn, and Foreman, I believe that we are on our way to developing one of the best coaching staffs and best trial team programs in the nation.”
Looking forward to the 2015-2016 season, competitor Jeremy Garrett reflected, “All I know is that they better watch out next year because we are hungry.”
Congratulations to all the competitors on their exceptional accomplishment, and a hearty thank you to the many Thomas Jefferson students who volunteered their time to play witnesses during the trial team practices and during the regional competition. Their assistance was invaluable. Volunteer witnesses are needed for the upcoming South Texas Competition; please contact Coach Lea Fields-Bernard at email@example.com if you are interested in helping with preparations for the South Texas Mock Trial Challenge.
Students interested in joining the 2015-2016 Mock Trial Team are encouraged to try out on Friday, April 10, and Saturday, April 11. Contact Coaches Lea Fields-Bernard or Lilys McCoy for additional information.