Cappello Program Launches Innovative Partnership With County Coroner

January 19, 2021
UCLA Law Students Participate in a Simulated Trial.
Students Brian McPherson ’22 and Andrew Gordon ’22 participate in a simulated trial with prosecutor J’me Forrest and pathologist Dr. Jun Guan.

The A. Barry Cappello Program in Trial Advocacy at UCLA School of Law has launched a collaboration with the office of the Los Angeles County Medical Examiner-Coroner, creating an innovative educational opportunity for law students and pathologists alike.

The partnership operates through UCLA Law’s experiential Advanced Trial Advocacy course, where students participate in a series of simulated trials. This year, for the first time, the expert witnesses were portrayed by real-life pathologists.

“The goal is to make our experiential courses as realistic as possible,” says Justin Bernstein, who directs the Cappello Program and teaches the Advanced Trial Advocacy class. “Here, our students got to prepare actual experts, direct actual experts and cross-examine actual experts. In turn, the pathologists received practice testifying and feedback on communicating clearly in court. It was win-win.”

Students and pathologists participated in a simulated trial – developed by Senior Deputy Medical Examiner Dr. Odey Ukpo – that occurred remotely over Zoom and involved homicide charges stemming from an altercation in a bar. The only disputed issue was cause of death, with a state coroner testifying for the government and a retained medical examiner testifying for the defense.

“As an aspiring advocate, I learned so much about creating a compelling, factual narrative from the testimony of an expert,” says Brian McPherson ’22 who represented the government and worked with Dr. Jun Guan.

Andrew Gordon ’22, who, like McPherson, is interested in a career in the courtroom, represented the defendant and worked with Dr. Richard Ou. “After this experience, I feel a lot more prepared to cross-examine an expert witness,” says Gordon.

J’me Forrest, a federal prosecutor who works in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Diego, presided over the trial and gave feedback to the attorneys and witnesses. “Examining an expert witness is a highly specific skill for a trial lawyer,” she says. “Having the opportunity to develop that skill in law school is an invaluable experience.”

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