Hope Wearing, four weeks removed from Centennial High School, stood before Federal Magistrate Jennifer Thurston Wednesday in downtown Bakersfield and delivered her opening argument in an espionage case involving an alleged Russian agent.
Wearing was the defense attorney. She was also the prosecutor. And, for good measure, she was a defense witness (the daughter of the accused) and a prosecution witness (an FBI agent).
But mostly she was a recent high school graduate honing her tools for the Gladiator Mock Trial Tournament, a competition that showcases the best prep mock trial competitors around, this weekend in Newport Beach.
Wearing, Centennial’s most decorated mock trial student since the program’s 1993 beginning, is one of 45 students selected to compete in the tournament — and the only one from the Kern High School District. (It’s technically an international competition: 44 Americans and one Canadian.)
Her coach, Brett Dobson, said Hope has won more awards than any other student in Centennial’s mock trial history. She has been an attorney on the team since her freshman year of high school — a tenure only one other student of Dobson’s has achieved.
So Wearing understands the format of a mock trial quite well. Thing is, the Gladiator Tournament is a little different.
Wearing had only 28 days to prepare for the case — a fraction of the six months she would normally have during the school year.
Her Gladiator case is about a woman, married to a man from Russia, who is charged with espionage. The fictional Mrs. Osborne and her husband lived on the East Coast but moved to the West Coast, when they learned of some tantalizing research related to the U.S. national defense. Mrs. Osborne worked directly under the person conducting the research.
The allegation is that Mrs. Osborne stole the research, put it in a coloring book, went to the park, left the booklet on a bench and a Russian spy picked it up.
Was it Mrs. Osborne who left that coloring book on the bench? Is she guilty as charged? That’s for Wearing to determine — depending on which role she is asked to perform, of course.
Addressing Thurston in her role as defense attorney, Wearing said the prosecution must prove three things to determine Mrs. Osborne’s guilt: They must show that she transmitted the information, that she transmitted the information to an agent of another country, and the intent of the transmission was to harm the U.S.
And she was tough in questioning the FBI agent, finally getting him to admit to arresting the alleged Russian spy solely based on appearance.
And when she was defending Mrs. Osborne in front of the jury, Wearing pointed out certain salient facts: Mrs. Osborne wasn’t from Russia; her husband was. Mrs. Osborne didn’t speak Russian; her husband did. Mrs. Osborne didn’t have a Russian accent, but the voice captured on a bugged phone call coming from the Osborne home the morning of the incident did have an accent. Mrs. Osborne wanted to move to California so her daughter could attend UC Berkeley, just as she had done. Mrs. Osborne didn’t change her identity, as the prosecution alleged; she simply changed her last name after marrying her husband.
Wearing confessed that defense attorney was her favorite role in this specific case — for a few different reasons.
“I agree with that side a little bit more, but the cross (examination) of the FBI agent is a lot of fun.”
“I enjoy cross in general because there are a lot of holes in statements that I get to point out.”
Before she joined her school’s mock trial team, Wearing wasn’t sure if she wanted to be an attorney. One year in mock trial changed that.
She hopes her mock trial experience will help when she pursues a legal career.
“It’s just so much fun. It’s really rewarding,” she said. “I really like how it makes me think.”
Dobson says Wearing’s strengths will be evident in the upcoming competition.
“(Hope) has really become strong at adjusting to the unexpected, just like you would have to do in a real trial,” he said. “The hardest part of mock trial is adjusting to what you don’t expect to happen.”
He also thinks her charm will serve her well.
“There’s this thing about Hope (that) ... is likable,” said Dobson. “Everybody loves Hope. So that fine line of being tough but being likable — she’s really good at that.”
Justin Bernstein, the mock trial coach at UC Irvine, thinks Wearing has a good chance of winning, according to Dobson.
Wearing will attend Fresno State this fall. No surprise: She will join the school’s mock trial team.