Mock trial overruled

Photo by Drew Crenshaw/Staff Photographer
mock trial 1 of 1 3This semester the mock trial program was offically shut down for the first time since its start in 1995.

Lauren Moore
Blazer News Editor

Joseph Dease, UAB alumni and Mock Trial Team coach, said he had no interest in studying law when he originally joined the team as a freshman in 2004. However, through his four years spent participating on the team as an undergraduate, Dease said he realized he had a real interest in trial advocacy.  

This interest led Dease to apply to law school and eventually come back to UAB as a coach for the team.  Dease said that the UAB Mock Trial program serves as a resource for students of all majors, not only teaching them discipline and law but also helping them to find themselves.  During a mock trial, students participate in fictional court cases, having the opportunity to both be members of the defense and the prosecution teams. Dease said that the Mock Trial Team also competes against other schools, giving members a chance to travel and compete nationally if qualified. 

 Being a part of the team also offers pre-law students unique opportunities for scholarships both during and after undergrad compared to their pre-law peers. According to the UAB Mock Trial Team website, students who have participated on the team for at least one semester are eligible to apply for the UAB Pre-law Advisory Board (PLAB) Scholarship. However, this semester, the mock trial program was officially cancelled due to lack of funding, the first cancellation the program has seen since its start in 1995 according to Jeffery Walker, Ph.D., chair of the criminal justice department. 

“The effect on law students is not the largest impact of the cancellation,” Dease said. “The program has helped hundreds of students with no interest in law school. It has done so by developing their public speaking abilities, their ability to think on their feet and by developing their self-confidence.” 

Walker said that the funding issues for the team began around five years ago after the longtime annual chili cook off fundraiser for the team was canceled. After this, Walker said that both he and Robert Palazzo, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, tried to keep the team funded, finally falling short this semester. Walker also said that the team normally had about 15 students involved.

Mariah Welter, UAB alumni and assistant Mock Trial Team coach, said that since she joined the program as a sophomore in 2014, participation either grew or remained steady from year to year, yet the budget dwindled each semester. In order to solve this problem, Welter said several members volunteered their time and resources to plan a fundraising initiative, but someone in UAB’s administration always shut it down.

 “In response to the cancellation, several alumni and current members reached out to administration in hopes of an explanation, but what we received in response was a generic email that was full of falsehoods and did little to address our concerns,” Welter said. “We were told that efforts had been made to reach out to alumni to raise money, but no alumni had received such a call, email or letter."

Erica Webb, a senior in political science and English and a pre-law student, said that she was looking forward to taking part in the program for her senior year before its sudden cancellation. 

 “Without this program, pre-law students are not going to be prepared to do what they need to do,” Webb said. “The rules are so intricate that actually being able to put them to use is how we learn them.” 

Walker said that the team requires $20,000 a year to not only compete locally but to be able to travel and compete on a national level. Walker said he doesn’t want to offer the program if it cannot cover the cost of traveling to competitions. 

 “We’ve talked to people, we’ve encouraged students to talk to people and we’ve tried all of this stuff to do fundraising, and we never really got any traction at all,” Walker said. “I was hoping by now I’d be able to have plans in place to keep it going, but I’m still hopeful. It’s still very high on my priority list.” 

Walker said he hopes the program can have the funding to be up and running again by the Fall 2019 semester, and that he hopes to integrate the Mock Trial team as a part of strengthening the future of the pre-law program.

“[Walker] would offer no specifics of how shutting down one of UAB’s few pre-law programs would work to strengthen it,” Welter said. “In my opinion, this is yet another attempt from UAB’s administration to stifle programs that don’t cater specifically to STEM students.”
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