Native wins national competition

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 30, 2012

Michael Eldridge (right) is seen with teammates Maurine Evans, Drew Haskins and Brittany Stancombe. Courtesy photo



Michael Eldridge once thought he’d grow up to be the voice of the Auburn Tigers. Instead, he’s traded a microphone for a briefcase and a spot on a national-winning trial advocacy team.

Eldridge, a third-year law student at Samford’s Cumberland School of Law and the son of Dr. and Mrs. Charles Eldridge, was a member of a four-person team that defeated 233 teams in 14 regions to win the American Association for Justice Student Trial Advocacy Competition Sunday in Las Vegas.

“Each law school in the nation has a trial advocacy team, where students participate in what is basically a mock trial,” Eldridge said. “At Cumberland, students can try out for the team after their first year of school. This is my second year. We have about 400 students in school. This year, 60 tried out and 14 made it.”

Each team participates in three competitions to earn a spot at nationals. In this particular instance, Eldridge and his teammates – Maurine Evans of Birmingham, Drew Haskins of Chattanooga, Tenn., and Brittany Stancombe of Clarksville, Tenn. – were tasked with trying the fictional case of a semi-pro hockey player, a top pick in the NHL draft, sent back out to play after receiving a concussion, only to receive a debilitating injury later in the game.

“We were given the case right before Christmas to practice,” he said. “We had everything from ‘the complaint’ to ‘witness statements and expert testimony.’ In it, the player was suing the hockey club and the athletic trainer for letting him go back into the game.”

As part of the “trial,” the team took turns acting out the parts of attorney, defendant, athletic trainer and expert witness. At the competition, teams were given the role of either prosecution or defense, and whoever presented the best case was deemed the winner.

A win at the regional competition in Tuscaloosa against other law schools in the state secured Eldridge’s team a spot at the national competition.

“There, we were competing against 14 other teams, and we tried the same case,” he said. “We went undefeated in the first three prelim rounds, won against Stetson and then the University of Maryland.”

Eldridge credited his coaches – trial attorneys and Cumberland grads Mike Rasmussen and Marc Jaskolka – as well as fellow teammates for the school’s fourth win in 25 years.

For their win, each member will receive a $2,000 cash scholarship, a trip to the organization’s summer conference in Chicago, and an “awesome note on our resume.”

“Growing up, I never thought I’d be a lawyer,” Eldridge said. “I wanted to be the voice of the Auburn Tigers, so I earned a degree in broadcast journalism. I quickly learned you don’t get those kind of jobs unless you know someone or you were a college athlete, and that knocked me out of the loop.

“So, like any other 22-year-old who didn’t know what to do, I decided to go to law school,” he said. “I didn’t know anything about Cumberland and the trial advocacy program. It was what all the cool kids talked about, and I wanted to be a cool kid. So, here I am.”

And it was a good decision for him, Eldridge said. For the last two summers, he’s worked in the district attorneys’ offices in Shelby and Jefferson counties.

“I know now, I want to be in the courtroom litigating,” he said. “Most people say they’d be terrified to stand up and do that in front of a group of people. Not me. We all have our talents. I can’t run a 40-meter dash or be the most good-looking man in the world, but I can get up and advocate for something in a good way.

“I know I can serve the best purpose as long as I’m in a courtroom, whether it’s as a DA or representing someone who got screwed over by company or criminal defendant,” he said. “I’m confident if I do things with the right intentions with God at core, then that’s where I can serve my best purpose.”