Throughout our years competing at the high school and college levels, we’ve always been taught to stand up for what’s right, to be a voice for ourselves and others, and to ensure that the environments we allow ourselves to be a part of are conducive to positive and inclusive learning experiences for all involved. Because of the lessons we’ve learned in mock trial, we’re writing this open letter to make sure our college mock trial community is informed about a judging experience we had this past weekend at Duke’s Tobacco Road Invitational.
Harry Tilis walked into our first round of competition to preside. From the moment he opened his mouth, we knew it was going to be a horrific round for everyone involved. We want to preface this by saying that words alone cannot convey how degrading our experience with Mr. Tilis was, and frankly, we don’t feel that what we’ve written does justice to the experience we had; we worry that those reading this will only understand what we felt if they’ve personally been in a round judged by Mr. Tilis. In our courtroom with two all-female counsel tables, Mr. Tilis began by actively yelling at both teams’ pretrial attorneys. After a ten minute spiel about how much experience he has judging mock trial, and how he knows AMTA rules and procedures, the following ensued…
Tilis: “Now. Is there anything so important to you that I haven’t already covered that you need to use my time right now to discuss before we proceed?”
Pretrial Attorney: “Your honor, we’d like to ask your preferences-”
Tilis: “No! Do what you will in the courtroom and I’ll stop you when I want to.”
Pretrial Attorney: “If we could direct your attention to-”
Tilis: “You’ll direct my attention to something on your own time, not mine! Do you really have anything else right now?”
Mr. Tilis went on to passive aggressively mock our team’s opener after her statement…
Tilis: "Thank you, Prosecution Opener, for that opening argument. Do we have an opening statement from the defense?"
Mr. Tilis also screamed at attorneys when they asked for a witness to step down for demonstrative purposes…
Prosecution Attorney: “Your honor, permission for the witness to step down and make use of a visual aid?”
Tilis: “I don’t know what you’re saying. Are you asking me something? All I’m hearing from you is statements! Are you asking for a motion of relief? What are you saying?”
Prosecution Attorney: “I’m just asking for permission for the witness to-”
Tilis: “Again, all I’m hearing from you are statements! What are you asking?”
Prosecution Attorney: “Your honor, may the witness step down?”
Tilis: “May she? Yeah, she may, that’s a question.”
When we left the courtroom and reported the judge to the tab room, we were thankful to hear that the opposing team, the University of Florida, had actually already reported the issue on our behalf. For that, we’d like to thank UF both for their sportsmanship and for the way they handled the round alongside us. We’d also like to thank Duke’s tournament directors and staff for the way they responded to our complaint and ensured that Mr. Tilis would not preside again. We later learned that after our complaint had been filed and Mr. Tilis was notified he would be scoring and not presiding for the next round of competition, he promptly left the courthouse and did not return to judge. In the same way that we were unaware of the reputation that preceded our round one presiding judge, both UF and Duke did not know about this judge’s attitudes and in-round behavior, yet we hope both programs’ responses will serve as a model for similar situations in the future.
After we reported our experience to the tab room we believed that our dealings with Mr. Tilis would be over. Having competed in mock trial tournaments for years we certainly aren’t strangers to tough or mean judges. We’ve had federal judges tie us to a podium, we’ve had judges fall asleep mid-round, we’ve had judges give us straight 3s, and we’ve left a round of comments with some team members crying. And while all of those experiences paled in comparison to what we dealt with from Mr. Tilis this past weekend, we still believed that our experience with Mr. Tilis was an isolated instance. However, when we looked up Mr. Tilis online after our round we were appalled to see that our experience was not the first of its kind.
While there were a litany of posts on Mock Trial Confessions describing other competitors’ experience with Mr. Tilis, two were especially alarming to us. In fact, the reason we’re writing this letter is because of two confessions in particular. The first, linked here, regards another competitor’s reported experience with Mr. Tilis, and the second, linked here, regards statements that Mr. Tilis made in a 2019 ORCS tournament packet.
It’s our understanding that Mr. Tilis is still involved in mock trial communities and being asked to judge rounds of competition because the community at large is unaware of the aforementioned, as we were. Not only has he hosted ORCS in 2019, but Mr. Tilis is also heavily involved with Empire Mock Trial for high schoolers. We cannot shake the idea of a fifteen year old girl being subject to a round where Mr. Tilis is presiding at Empire this coming weekend, which is why we’re bringing our experience and what has been posted online to the community’s attention. We know that the goal of those who host mock trial tournaments is to fill judge seats only with those who will create a positive and healthy learning environment for competitors of all ages. Our round with Mr. Tilis was the opposite, which is why we feel that it is our burden to put our community on notice of what we have read and experienced.
This is the first time that we’ve ever complained about a judge, and certainly the first time that we’ve ever done so in a public manner. That is why we are attaching our names and programs to this letter. It is important to us that this is seen as more than just a frivolous MTC post or as a program complaining about a judge; we won Mr. Tilis’s ballot. We are writing this letter because we want the matter looked into further by those with power over mock trial judge pools.
On a personal note and without speaking for the other undersigned individuals, Florida State University will not sit through another round judged by Mr. Tilis in the future. We will instead conflict out of a round if he is ever placed in front of any of our teams again. We don’t write this to create issues in the community. Rather, we as a program hope to shield our competitors from what we feel to be unacceptable and potentially harmful situations. We write this letter in hopes that, with this information, college invitational hosts, AMTA representatives, and anyone else who has power over mock trial competitions will choose to shield all competitors from such situations.
Fernando Yzquierdo, Florida State Mock Trial | President
Abby Branham, Florida State Mock Trial | Captain
Brianna Sanchez, Florida State Mock Trial | Captain
Sophia Athan, University of Florida Mock Trial | President
Samantha Silverio, University of Florida Mock Trial | Vice President
Brianna McKnight, University of Florida Mock Trial | Captain
Lillian Phillips, University of Florida Mock Trial | Captain
Paul Kim, Duke University | Tournament Director
Nhu Bui, Duke University | Tournament Director
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But he will. And that’s the saddest and most awful part about this letter: none of this—absolutely none of it—is new information. Harry Tilis has been doing this to mock trial competitors since before any of the people who started this thread were in high school or college. The notion that AMTA didn’t or couldn’t know about his behavior is absurd. AMTA is an old boys’ club and Harry Tilis is an old boy.
Thank you to the competitors from Florida State, University of Florida, and Duke for writing this letter. I hope AMTA chooses to listen.
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AMTA has full control over their IP and they happily use that control to restrict the use of said IP. There is nothing preventing them from doing the same thing to restrict the use of their IP from certain judges, and I hope they do so immediately.
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—Arvind Goday, Tufts ‘20
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