Georgia State University College of Law Student Trial Lawyers Association team of Ryan Brown (J.D. ’17), Lacey Wheeler (J.D. ’17), Robert Noens (J.D. ’18) and Hunter Rodgers (J.D. ’18) won the Nov. 18-20 William Daniel Mock Trial Competition at the Fulton County Courthouse.
The team went undefeated the entire weekend, beating the University of Georgia, Faulkner University and Buffalo University in the group stage. The team beat Florida State University in the semifinals and South Texas College in the final round.
Winning the competition was “the best feeling I have had in law school,” said Brown, who served as an attorney. “We were ecstatic.”
Wheeler said winning felt surreal, but the team put in a lot of hard work to reach their goal.
“It’s a lot to memorize, a lot of pressure, but it’s worth it and the experience itself is rewarding.”
Alison Burleson (J.D. ’00) and Alex Galvan (J.D. ’14) coached the group.
“They performed exceptionally well,” Galvan said. “They were up against difficult teams, but the overwhelming majority of judges recognized that our team was the most prepared and best executed their theories and their plan for trying their case.”
The problem was based on a real case of a district attorney who was murdered. Brown and Wheeler played the attorneys, switching roles as defense and prosecution, and Rodgers and Noens acted as the witnesses, detective and defendant.
Brown said they were nervous initially, but knowing the coaches had prepared them well helped them relax. Wheeler said they gained confidence after the first round.
“After our first round, we dominated,” Wheeler said. “Ryan and I started working like a well-oiled machine. It flowed so well. By the last two rounds, I wasn’t nervous at all. I knew exactly what needed to happen. It was exciting to feel that progression throughout the competition.”
Wheeler said teammates Noens and Rodgers boosted her and Brown’s performances. “Robert and Hunter were both amazing. Hunter got compliments from the judges on how well he did from judges on almost every round. We had a great team.”
In the final round, Brown gave the opening statement and Wheeler gave the closing argument.
“In the final round we were cautiously confident. The judge ruled against us on one thing early on, but we were able to recover. I knew if we stayed on game and kept doing what we practiced, we would win. And then Lacey gave a great closing argument. She spun what the other team said and turned it into something favorable for us,” Brown said.
The judges were very complimentary of their performance.
“One of the evaluators told us Lacey or I could walk into any courtroom in Georgia today and win a case,” Brown said. He added that his participation in STLA had already helped him in the real world when he worked on a case during his internship with the district attorney’s office last summer.
“What I learned in mock trial translated into that setting. It was a great experience,” he said. “And now after having this mock trial preparation and competition I know I would be even better. Tom Jones does a fantastic job preparing students.”
Galvan, who participated in STLA as a student, became a coach after graduating. “Mock trial taught me how to think on my feet and taught me how to articulate an argument. It gave me confidence going into practice, to speak in front of people and a judge—that was important. So when I had the opportunity to give back by becoming a coach I jumped at that chance.”
He enjoyed working with the team, he said. “They all worked very hard, were very focused, they listened, they trusted us as coaches and they also were great about offering up own their ideas and opinions. Most importantly, they worked really well together as a unit.”
Both Wheeler and Brown were thankful for the various ways the coaches supported them, including attending the competition.
“We joked and called them ‘mom’ and ‘dad’ because they brought us snacks and water and ordered our lunch,” Wheeler said. “They put in a lot of time to help us prepare and gave us moral support. We appreciate them and Tom Jones.”
“They are fantastic coaches,” Brown said. “They demand the best and I think that is what translated into us not getting flustered at the competition and ultimately winning.”