Anvay Tewari

It was the final round of the 2019 National Championships in Philadelphia. Exhausted from the competition and its almost endless preparation, defense attorney Elizabeth Bays ’19 LAW ‘22 led her team into the courtroom for the last time with frazzled excitement.

Later that day, Yale Mock Trial won its second national championship title in program history, along with multiple individual awards.

But in a confidential email from the American Mock Trial Association sent just weeks before Bays graduated, nearly all of it vanished.

According to Bays’ public statement, the email followed a June 3 public sanctions letter AMTA posted on its website and accused Bays’ team of making up facts during the trial.  These actions, the AMTA board wrote in the statement, “are not part of the ‘game’ of mock trial; they are cheating.” 

Because of the violations, the Association stripped Yale of its 2019 national championship and barred all rostered members of Yale’s defense team that went to Nationals from competing in certain AMTA events next season. 

For Bays and Joseph Young-Perez ’20, who was intimately involved with the incident, sanctions were more serious: The association prohibited them from competing or coaching at all next year. Bays and the Yale Mock Trial executive board declined to be interviewed. When asked for more information, President of the AMTA William Warihay pointed towards his organization’s June 3 statement.

Rhodes College’s mock trial team, which played against Yale in the final round, said they have not been offered the championship title but declined to comment further. 

Mock trials are meant to parallel actual, real-world trials. Students pose as witnesses and follow AMTA-created affidavits when they testify. Attorneys, also students, prepare opening and closing statements and question witnesses. The association judges both witnesses and attorneys on a variety of categories, and the highest scoring team wins the round. 

Witnesses in mock trial are bound to their affidavits, which they follow like scripts to simulate a real trial. Going off the script, or ditching the affidavit, in order to gain an advantage is considered an “egregious invention of fact” by the AMTA.

The 2019 mock trial competition revolved around a defamation case in which an almond milk company sued Instagram influencer Ms. Anderson for hearing two people talking about lead in the company’s milk and then posting about it. 

Yale’s strategy was to deflect the blame from Anderson onto the two people who spoke about the lead. The team argued that a rival dairy milk company, headed by an angry man named Dakota Rivers (played by Perez), must have sent the two people in to influence the influencer. 

To Yale’s team, this was not only a winning strategy, it was also a legal one. After all, Bays and her fellow team members soared all the way to the national finals by portraying Rivers as a hostile witness who sought to convince customers to drink real milk instead of almond milk. Placing the blame on Rivers helped make the defendant — the influencer — seem more innocent. 

But during Rivers’ cross-examination at the National Finals, as he followed the script Young-Perez and Bays wrote days before, the problem became obvious to the AMTA: Rivers apparently lied.

“Yes we made [the influencer] say it,” he said under questioning in reference to Anderson’s post, which used the hashtag “#drinkrealdairy” — directly connecting her to Rivers.

Later, when pressed on his affidavit in which he swore that if he knew what the post was going to say, he wouldn’t tell her to post it, it appeared that Rivers dug in. “Of course I said that,” he explained. “I didn’t want us to get sued too.”

Around this time, according to an anonymous complaint filed against Yale, Rivers ditched his affidavit. 

The prosecuting attorney asked, “You would agree with me that had the defendant told you of this post before she made it, you would have told her not to do it, yes or no?”

After hesitating, Rivers said “No.”

According to the June 3 letter, the Defense’s performance in the National Final Round was not just creative and intentional, but also malicious. 

By apparently disagreeing with his own affidavit, according to the AMTA, Young-Perez and the team “totally [separated] a trial from its case materials” and established “an unfair competitive advantage for which their opponent has no recourse.” This undercut “the very foundation of the educational purpose of mock trial.”

In the weeks that followed National Finals, Bays publicly justified her — and her team’s — actions through over 40 pages of explanations lightly redacted for privacy. 

According to a copy of her appeal letter that she linked to in her only forum post on popular mock trial site, Bays claimed the AMTA’s decision to sanction the program was a mistake. In another document, she called the decision “unwarranted” and “founded on faulty logic.”

Bays wrote she and Young-Perez took a different interpretation to Rivers’ “I didn’t want to get sued” explanation.

While it is true that Rivers pushed Anderson to make the post, she said, it is also true that he did not know what would be in the post. If he did, he would not have told her to post it — especially since the “#drinkrealdairy” at the end incriminated his business and left him at risk of a defamation lawsuit.

Therefore, Bays argued, Rivers had not contradicted himself. 

In defense of Rivers’ testimony, where it seems as though he contradicted his own affidavit, Bays wrote that the difference lay in a single word: “of.”

“If Anderson had told Rivers ‘of the post’ — told him about it generally, its existence, its general gist, that it said [the almond milk] had lead — then he would not have stopped her,” she wrote. “But if he had known, actually, ‘what she was going to say’ — hashtag included, the actual language included — he would have told her not to do it.”

Regardless of the decision, Bays also asserted that the sanctions were too heavy. While invention of material fact is not unique to the association — or to Yale, for that matter, which employed the same strategy earlier in the National Championships  — the sanctions were much harsher than any other punishments doled out by the Association since it started publicizing violations in 2011. In fact, when the same rule was broken in March 2019, the offending team was only given a written reprimand and program probation.

Still, the AMTA upheld the sanctions. Bays is still barred from competing in the coming season, as are other members of the Yale Mock Trial’s Nationals team. 

Since many of those sanctioned have graduated, the 2019-20 team is largely unaffected, the team’s executive board wrote in an email statement to the News.

“We’re looking forward to competing next year,” they added.

Yale Mock Trial was the runner-up for the national title in 2015, 2017 and 2018. The team won the championship in 2016.

Matt Kristoffersen | .