From left: Justin Bernstein; Jonathan Kuang of UCLA, wielding the pipe exhibit from the case; University of Cincinnati student Stephen Johnson, holding the engraved sword he received; and Drexel assistant director of trial advocacy Abbie Heller.
UCLA School of Law co-hosted the Trial by Combat mock trial national championship in June, the first time the school has been involved with the event. More than 5,000 undergraduate students nationwide participate in mock trial competitions, and Trial by Combat is limited to the top 16.
The tournament differs from other college trial competitions in several respects. Students compete one-on-one, rather than in a team with their classmates. They receive the case just 24 hours before the tournament begins, rather than months before. And they have only 15 minutes to prepare their witness, rather than the weeks or months they would have for most competitions.
Justin Bernstein, director of UCLA Law’s A. Barry Cappello Program in Trial Advocacy, created the event in 2017 to celebrate the best undergraduate trial advocates. At the time, Bernstein was at Drexel University Kline School of Law, which hosted this year’s event in Philadelphia.
This year's case involved a celebrity defendant accused of staging his own assault to gain public sympathy after making an offensive tweet. Students received legal documents, witness statements, photos and physical evidence — a pipe and ski mask — to use in trial.
Competitors came from Ivy League colleges, large state universities and small liberal arts schools. Semifinalists came from the University of Cincinnati, University of Virginia, Boston University and UCLA. Bernstein presided over the final round, where Cincinnati's Stephen Johnson narrowly defeated UCLA's Jonathan Kuang. Per tradition, Johnson received an engraved sword as his trophy.
In 2020, UCLA will host the Trial by Combat tournament.