Howard County Times

Long Reach High School mock trial team earns Howard County co-championship in inaugural season

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Long Reach High School junior Isabella Roberts stood in front of the circuit courtroom in Annapolis and delivered her closing argument against defendant Ryan Grimes, a college student charged with conspiracy to distribute amphetamines and cocaine.

“They’re setting this person up as an angel,” said Roberts, 16. “But even halos can be crooked.”


While the State of Maryland v. Ryan Grimes was a fictitious case, the stakes were high for Roberts and her classmates on Long Reach’s mock trial team.

The Long Reach High School Mock Trial team celebrates the end of its season inside team adviser Jody Zepp’s classroom.

Despite it being its inaugural season, Long Reach was this year’s Howard County mock trial co-champion with River Hill High School. Long Reach advanced to Annapolis, where it competed against Anne Arundel County and Carroll County teams from Maryland’s 5th Circuit.


After Roberts delivered her case as the prosecution, Long Reach social studies teacher and mock trial coach Jody Zepp approached the bench to talk with the judge.

“She said, ‘I’m gonna tell your attorney that I’m stealing this line from her in my next trial,’ ” Zepp said.

Although Long Reach lost in the circuit finals to Severna Park High School, which went on to the Maryland state regionals, the competition capped a remarkable run for a team that was brand new to mock trial. Rising from the sixth seed in the Howard County playoffs to second place in the 5th Circuit felt like a Cinderella story, said senior Cate Harris, who co-captained the team with Roberts.

“I believed in this team,” said Harris, 18. “They all proved that they were so amazing and willing to put in the time and the effort to really succeed and really grasp this case.”

Run annually in the state since 1983 by MYLaw, a nonprofit providing law-related education to Maryland youth, mock trial presents high school teams with fictional cases and requires students to act as attorneys, witnesses and even bailiffs. More than 140 schools from 19 counties compete in the competition, which culminated in a state championship March 24 in the Maryland Court of Appeals.

At the end of October, teams are sent a more than 100-page casebook containing mock trial rules along with expert reports, affidavits and evidence for the year’s trial, which alternates between civil and criminal cases.

Long Reach High School student Halle Octaviano presents her mock trial case in front of Columbia lawyer Thomas Mulinazzi, who served as a volunteer judge.

During local competitions, from January through March, schools alternate between playing the prosecution and defense. Students spend weeks combing through purposefully complex and self-contradictory evidence to come up with compelling arguments for both sides.

In the case of Ryan Grimes, teams had to unravel the motives of a freshman at the fictional Catoctin College accused of joining a drug ring.


Long Reach junior and prosecution attorney Danielle Fonmedig said the key was finding “little suspicious details,” like Grimes having sent money to defense witness and convicted drug dealer Carter Rodriguez. But students stressed pre-trial research can only take you so far.

“I had to learn to think on my feet because obviously you don’t know what the other side is going to do, why they’re gonna say, how they’re gonna attack your witness,” said Fonmedig, 17.

Volunteer judges and attorneys coach teams and score students on a 1-10 scale during opening statements, witness examination and closing arguments. Students serving as lawyers are assessed for their argument skills and knowledge of the law, while witnesses are graded for their presentation and persona.

While Long Reach’s first few trials were “definitely shaky,” Roberts said, the team soon found its footing when members realized which roles best matched students’ skill sets.

“It was like something just clicked within the team,” Roberts said. “As the regular season progressed, it started getting out there that Long Reach isn’t someone to just pass over to just ignore because they’re a first year team or because they’re Long Reach.”

Roberts and Harris said there’s often a stigma associated with the school based on its demographics and socioeconomic status. Of the county’s 12 public high schools, Long Reach’s student body had the highest rates of Free and Reduced Price Meals participation (38.6%) and English learners (12.1%) in fiscal 2022 and the lowest graduation rate at 87.9%.


“The housing prices around Long Reach or the utilities around here or the demographics of the school have no bearing on how intelligent and capable and amazing the kids at Long Reach High School can be,” Harris said.

In the county playoffs, Long Reach beat more seasoned programs at Centennial and Mount Hebron high schools, thereby securing its place at circuits in Annapolis. Once there, Long Reach beat Carroll County champions Liberty High School before finally falling to Severna Park.

“For the Long Reach kids to persevere and get better and then start kicking butt was very impressive,” said Columbia attorney Thomas Mulinazzi, who served as judge for Long Reach’s first trial, which it lost, and subsequently volunteered to help coach the team.

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Mulinazzi graduated from Hammond High School, where he received free and reduced lunch, and remembers thinking he would never be capable of pursuing a career in law. He says mock trial helps demystify the legal system and teaches students critical skills, from leadership to public speaking.

“If it’s the case that they don’t think they can [become a lawyer], I’m glad that I’m glad there’s a program like them on trial so they can see that they can,” Mulinazzi, who is working to recruit other law firms to assist high school teams.

Many of the Long Reach team members had never met before mock trial and Zepp said the group quickly became a tight knit unit.


“The community of scholars that we’ve created here is remarkable,” she said. “I didn’t realize how truly gifted some of these folks are. ...You see it right before your eyes.”

On March 20, the students gathered in Zepp’s classroom to eat cake and celebrate a successful season — and hope for more to come.

“We are capable of the exact same things that everyone else is capable of,” Roberts said. “I think we proved that beyond a reasonable doubt.”

To learn more about MYLaw Mock Trial, visit: