Stetson Earns New Mock Trial Success

Stetson Mock Trial competition winners (from left): Vera Bendiksen, Madyson Gennett, Peyton France, Tejal Ram, Soleille Vertus, Abraham Calderon and Tristyn Rampersad. Not pictured: Colin Snyder, who won “best attorney.” 

Stetson’s undergraduate mock trial team is having big success. 

While Stetson’s College of Law regularly participates — and excels – in competitions against other schools nationwide, the university’s mock trial team in DeLand placed second at the 14th Annual Wildcat Mock Trial Invitational Tournament, Oct. 29-30, hosted by the University of New Hampshire. 

Stetson topped teams from the U.S. Military Academy West Point, MIT, the University of Massachusetts and Northeastern University, among others. The event was held in cooperation with the American Mock Trial Association. 

portrait outside
Sven Smith, PhD

Stetson senior Colin Snyder won “best attorney” and was the highest ranked attorney for each of the four rounds. First-year student Soleille Vertus won one of the “best witness” awards. Additional members on the award-winning team were Tejal Ram, Tristyn Rampersad, Vera Bendiksen, Madyson Gennett, Abraham Calderon and Peyton France. 

Stetson’s undergraduate mock trial team originated as the dream of a then-Stetson student/now-complex litigation attorney Danny Humphrey in 2013. Humphrey, who graduated in 2016, approached Sven Smith, PhD, JD, associate professor of sociology, about starting a team — and it began. Smith is now chair of the Pre-Law Program and director of the undergraduate mock trial team. 

The team has competed throughout the country in a variety of contests, gaining its fair share of awards along the way (on display on the second floor of Davis Hall).

‘Worked Tirelessly’

“The team has a lot to show for their hard work,” Smith said. “They worked tirelessly with their outstanding coach [local attorney Alex Ercolani, a 2016 alumna] to prepare for this event. They convincingly defeated some amazing programs and great universities and came in a very close second to undergraduate mock trial powerhouse, Wellesley College. This bodes well for our program as we head into the season. I think this is an indication of their excellent coach’s efforts, the curricular support the students receive, the dedication of the talented students Stetson is so fortunate to attract here, and overall rigor of the Pre-Law Program at Stetson.”

Team coach Alex Ercolani ’16

Ercolani, an active litigator and chief operating officer of the Munizzi Law Firm, believes the best is yet to come. 

“The team’s performance at UNH is a reflection of the student’s immense pride in the program and how they strive to represent the university to the best of their abilities at every opportunity,” commented Ercolani, whose firm has offices in DeLand and nearby Longwood. “The students have set the bar very high for themselves with their performance at this first competition of the season, but I have no doubt they will exceed this performance at upcoming competitions.”

“We are so proud of the hard work that the team put in to gain this accolade. … This is a great start to the season as we head to other national invitationals and, ultimately, Regionals. I hope the success continues.”

Team member Tejal Ram

“We are so proud of the hard work that the team put in to gain this accolade,” said Ram, the team’s president. “Coach Alex has been amazing. We are lucky to have her working to help shape our team. This is a great start to the season as we head to other national invitationals and, ultimately, Regionals. I hope the success continues.”

In a mock trial competition, teams are given the same fact scenario from which they must construct both the plaintiff’s and defendant’s case through all of the steps of a trial (opening statement, direct and cross examination, and closing arguments) Team members argue as the attorneys for either the plaintiff or defense, as well as act as the witnesses in the case. Teams are scored by real judges, attorneys or law students, and the team with the most points wins. 

Many Resources

In the Pre-Law Program in DeLand, students have access to many resources as they consider which path in law to take. The Pre-Law Program also provides advisors who help students find courses of study and helps students design an articulated plan for students to become successful law students and legal professionals. 

According to Smith, one of the program’s primary goals is “to design a plan that will get the students into prestigious law schools, including Stetson’s College of Law” in Gulfport. Stetson Law has earned a national reputation for excellence in trial advocacy. 

Not coincidentally, among the reasons for such recognition is its award-winning Trial Team, which has placed first in numerous national-level trial competitions through the years. 

-Michael Candelaria