Mock Trial Team exposes students to courtroom atmosphere

Western's Mock Trial Team at Gunnison County Courthouse

Mock Trial Team exposes students to courtroom atmosphere

Date: Thursday, April 12, 2018 - 1:45pm

The Mock Trial Team at Western State Colorado University has come a long way in a short time.

In Fall 2016, Warren Knutson, now a senior graduating in May, hosted an information session at a Politics Club meeting to gauge interest in launching a new Mock Trial Team at Western. Less than two years later, the team, which now has 14 members, has under its belt a regional competition at the El Paso County Courthouse in Colorado Springs and a local showcase at the Gunnison County Courthouse.

For students who are considering the law as a career, Western’s Mock Trial Team offers an opportunity to gain courtroom experience. Through engaging in mock-trial competition—where students take on the roles of lawyers and witnesses for the prosecution and defense—students develop skills in critical thinking and public speaking while honing a sense of courtroom procedures and legal ethics.

“I have always been extremely passionate about the law and all of its intricacies,” Knutson said. “As such, it was my goal to use my passion and help others become engaged and enthusiastic about the law. Our inaugural year as a team was a huge success, drawing students to participate in Mock Trial from a variety of backgrounds, and has laid a solid foundation for the team to grow and continue to be successful at Western.”

On Feb. 23-25, the Western Mock Trial Team traveled to Colorado Springs for the American Mock Trial Association’s (AMTA) Regional Competition at the El Paso County Terry Harris Judicial Complex. Western competed in four different rounds of the hypothetical attempted murder case State of Midlands v. Dylan Hendricks, finishing with one win and one tie.

“I was so proud of our students,” said Western Assistant Professor Brian Bernhardt, who serves as an advisor for the team. “They held their own, successfully arguing objections, fighting off tough cross-examinations and pinning their witnesses down on cross-examination—even against top-tier teams from large schools!”

At regionals, Western also received an honorable mention for the Spirit of AMTA Award, which is given to “the team that best exemplifies the ideals of civility, justice and fair play.” 

The Western roster comprised: Prosecuting Attorneys (Knutson, Spencer Shiplett and Ian Wilson), Defense Attorneys (Jordynn Canelis, Keifer Johnson and Trey McLaughlin), Witnesses (Jakob Calkins, Fisher Crews and Cameron McCrimmon), Timekeeper (Heather Metz) and Supporters (Luke Bodewes, Trevor Buongiorno and Nicholas Turco).

“Our performance would not have been possible without the extensive contributions of Dr. Jeff Dykes from the School of Business, who volunteered to work with our team during every practice session—often lasting for many hours into the evening—and traveled with us to the competition,” Bernhardt said. “I would also like to mention the efforts Michael King, who has just opened a law clinic in the ICELab and who diligently worked with our students on trial advocacy and public speaking skills. Thanks also to Dr. Paul Edwards, Professor of Communication and Theatre, who provided feedback on our witnesses’ characterization and performances.”

On the heels of its successful regional competition, Western’s Mock Trial Team put on a local demonstration of the State of Midlands v. Dylan Hendricks case at the Gunnison County Courthouse on March 27. None other than the Chief Judge of Colorado’s 7th Judicial District, Steven Patrick, served as the presiding judge in the case.  

To get involved with Western’s Mock Trial Team, contact Professor Bernhardt at

Story by Bryan Boyle, Marketing Communications. Photo by Taylor Cull.