This Article was republished from Fresno State Campus News
|It may not be Perry Mason’s grand courtroom style, but it’s right up there with real-life drama.
For the first time in Fresno State’s 12-year history in mock trial, three of the five teams won a bid to compete at the Opening Round of the National Championship March 25-26.
Mock trial, a three-unit criminology course at Fresno State and an intercollegiate extracurricular program, promotes the ideals of law and the judicial system through participation in national competitions.
Competitors take the roles of witnesses and attorneys. Each trial simulates an actual jury trial and consists of two teams, with one team representing the plaintiff and one team representing the defense. Teams are scored on their ability to present a persuasive and professionally delivered case theory.
Trials are as exhilarating as a TV courtroom, aka Ally McBeal or Ben Matlock.
This February, at the Colorado Springs Regional, Fresno State’s A team took seventh. Two other teams competed at the Claremont regional in Los Angeles. Fresno State’s B team took first place and this won a bid to Opening Round Championships. Several students won individual honors as attorneys or witnesses in both tournaments.
Led by Gordon Park — now senior partner with the firm McCormick, Barstow, Sheppard, Wayte and Carruth law firm in Fresno — the team first entered Mock Trial competition in 2005.
Gordon began coaching Buchanan High School Mock Trial 1999 to 2011, and during this time, his daughter was National Champion in Law School mock trial competitions. But Gordon was surprised that Fresno State did not have such a team.
“I then gave a speech to the [Fresno State] pre-law fraternity in December 2004 at the request of my friend, ex-City Attorney and popular Criminology Professor Harvey Wallace J.D. and challenged the members of that fraternity to form a Fresno State Mock Trial team,” he said.
Starting with just eight students, they formed the first Fresno State Mock Trial team.
Sadly, after only its second full season, and only weeks before the third season was to commence, Dr. Harvey Wallace died suddenly at home of a heart attack. Gordon agreed to become an adjunct part-time instructor for CRIM 136T, the Mock Trial class. He recruited two attorney friends, Steve McQuillan and Paul Whitfield, to help coach the team as volunteers.
Each year, the team has been able to recruit local attorneys to help coach.
Now, Fresno State mock trial alumni who are practicing local attorneys also help as assistant coaches.
About seven years ago, deputy District Attorney Christopher Irwin joined them an assistant coach and has been the primary co-coach and instructor after Steve McQuillan retired in 2014.
In April of 2014, the program won its first ever bid to compete at the National Mock Trial Championship Finals in Orlando, FL, as one of 48 teams. That established the program as one of the top 75 in the country that year.
Fresno State is now widely recognized in the American Mock Trial Association as one of the top programs in the Western states.
“From those humble beginnings, and with a terrific group of committed, hard-working, talented and enthusiastic students, the mock trial team and program began to grow and started to win trophies and awards at tournaments,” Gordon said.
When he was younger, Gordon was terrified of public speaking, not an auspicious start for a future trial lawyer. But he discovered he could be a very persuasive speaker.
“It wasn’t until law school, when I tried out to participate on the UCLA Law School’s Moot Court Honors program, that I discovered a real talent and love of arguing in court to judges on appellate cases,” he said.
Gordon attended UCLA Law School 1973-1976, then obtained his J.D. degree and passed the California Bar.
“I have been involved in a number of well publized jury trials, including the OJ Simpson stolen memorabilia civil trial in Las Vegas,” he said. “I have been selected by my peers as one of Northern California’s ‘Super Lawyers’ in Insurance Defense for the last seven years, and in 2013- 2016 I was selected as one of the Top 100 Attorneys in Nevada.”
Over the years, he has enjoyed watching as his students attended prestigious law schools, often receiving scholarships due to their participation as a member of the intercollegiate mock trial team. Interestingly, several marriages took place between Fresno State “mockers.” As an ordained minister, Gordon even performed wedding ceremonies for four of them.
“I love teaching others and I love the students I get to coach on the mock trial team,” Gordon said. “Taking students, with little or no knowledge of the courtroom and our jury trial system, and teaching them the law, civil and criminal procedure and how to become effective public speakers, as trial lawyer and witnesses, is so rewarding.”
He recently received a “thank you” from a Tulare County Deputy District Attorney who won a trial due to the fact that one of Gordon’s mock trial alumni, Deputy Sheriff Jerry Diaz, had been well-trained in mock trial.
“When I hear those kind of accolades, and know that I have made a difference in so many young lives, and perhaps helped some discover their inner talents as trial lawyers and witnesses, that is what is most rewarding about teaching mock trial at Fresno State,” Gordon said. “Everything else is pure gravy.”
Gordon was selected by the College of Social Science as its professor of the year in 2014.
“I believe the true measure of the success of Fresno State’s Mock Trial program is not in how many trophies we have won, or how high our national ranking may go, or how much status and prestige we have achieved nationally for our University, but rather it is with all the students whose lives have been positively affected by their mock trial training and experience,” he said.
The father of three children, all college graduates (his youngest serving in Afghanistan), Gordon has been married to wife, Susan, for 44 years. He and his wife are now grandparents.
Gordon’s hobbies include playing strategy games, including chess. In 1988, he and his family won $10,000 on the TV show Family Feud.
His wife loves animals, and so they have had a variety of pets over the years, including a large talking parrot, cats, dogs, goats, and even chickens.