Only two schools from Washington state — Franklin High in 2000 and 2018 and Seattle Prep in 2014 — have earned the national title in the mock-trial championship.
In a competition that draws aspiring lawyers from some of the country’s most prestigious private academies, a team from one of Seattle’s most diverse public high schools claimed the top honor in this year’s National High School Mock Trial Championship.
The team from Franklin High School won the national championship Sunday after five rounds of arguing the same court case against competitors from 42 states, Guam, the Mariana Islands and South Korea.
Only two schools from Washington state — Franklin High in 2000 and 2018 and Seattle Prep in 2014 — have earned the national title.
“At first, everyone was nervous,” said 17-year-old Ahlam Nur, a Franklin junior who joined the mock-trial team this past year.
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“But once we heard, ‘This court is now in session,’ we all got into the zone and put on our professional face,” Nur said. “We all knew what we had to do, but yeah, it was scary.”
Hosted in Reno, Nevada, this year’s championship required each team to prosecute or defend a suspect in an alleged bombing and murder during a parade of festivalgoers on their way to the popular Burning Man festival in the Black Rock Desert.
Nur personally believed the defendant was guilty. But in her role as expert witness for the defense, she spent a month studying the science of bombs — and even interviewed a local agent with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives — to prepare for the national competition.
“I was always kind of afraid of being an expert witness,” Nur said. “You have to really understand their expertise and know what you’re talking about … We have to present the real version of our characters.”
(As for the suspect, Nur said, “She was guilty, but I was on the defense, so no she wasn’t.”)
Franklin High teacher Don Eaton has coached the mock-trial team since 2005.
For him, Sunday’s win offered validation for the students who attend Franklin High, where about 92 percent of students identify as a person of color, compared to about 54 percent for Seattle Public Schools as a whole.
“You walk into a courtroom today, and you see a lot of old white guys,” Eaton said. “So it means a lot to be able to go and win in that setting, because most of the judges are also pretty stodgy old white guys.
“You have to be twice as good to win like we did there,” he said.
In Washington state, the high-school mock-trial program began in 1989. Retired King County Superior Court Judge William Downing organized the annual event in King County and either wrote or edited the case problems.
Downing this year helped the Franklin High team prepare for the national competition and presided over its dress rehearsal of the Reno case.
“This is an amazing group of kids and their accomplishment is breathtaking,” he said in an email. “They are full of heart and spirit and, having done the hard work of trial preparation, not at all afraid of going up against the best in the country.
“I was about to say going up against their peers but now we can pronounce them peerless,” Downing added.
Before heading home to Seattle, the Franklin High team celebrated its win Sunday night with a quick meal at a Reno diner and then a limousine ride around the Biggest Little City in the World.
Nur, who plans to go into business after high school, recommended every student — and not just future attorneys — consider joining a mock-trial team.
“I was nervous at first but stuck around because I like the feeling of having a family, and everyone in mock trial is family for me,” she said. “We know each other’s struggles and victories.
“If you want to do something really cool in high school that you can talk about for years, mock trial is it.”