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All Jacqueline Wells could do was shrug her shoulders. The 17-year-old had just watched her carefully constructed case in People v. Claiborne crumble as a jury delivered not-guilty verdicts on counts of driving under the influence and vehicular manslaughter. “I really reviewed the testimony, worked hard, and thought I would win,” said Wells, who served as a prosecutor in the case. “But it was a great experience.” Wells, of course, can afford to take a philosophical attitude about the loss. This was a mock trial, and for Wells and the other teen-agers involved it was more about learning than winning. Wells was trying the case as a participant in the Center for Youth Development Through Law’s summer legal fellowship program. On Thursday, about 30 San Francisco East Bay high-schoolers taking part in the program participated in two mock trials in the Booth Auditorium at Boalt Hall School of Law of the University of California at Berkeley. Wells had spent the days leading up to her trial doing what any good prosecutor would. She combed the witnesses’ testimony for conflicting statements and inaccuracies, drafted questions designed to highlight them to the jury, and laid out a strategy she hoped would return guilty verdicts. For students who’ve graduated from the program, the skills they’ve developed have helped them later on. “I’m pre-law. I know what I want to do now, and this is one of the main programs that helped me figure that out,” said Dominick Robinson, a 1998 graduate of the program now at Atlanta’s Morehouse College. The Center for Youth Development Through Law has been coordinating the fellowship program since 1995 when it started with 20 students. The program targets minority high-schoolers in the Oakland, Calif., area who show an interest in law. In addition to putting on the mock trials, the center coordinates an intensive two-week summer course on law. It also places the students in paid internships in government offices and with Bay Area firms such as McCutchen, Doyle, Brown & Enersen and Wartnick, Chaber, Harowitz, Smith & Tigerman. “For a lot of them, if they weren’t working in the internships here, they’d be in jobs like Taco Bell,” said Nancy Schiff, the center’s executive director. The program pairs students with mentors culled from the student body at Boalt, along with the firms and organizations the students work with. Wells’ mentor is Krishna Pettitt, a senior associate with Webster & Anderson. Pettitt gives Wells guidance on everything from academics to her personal life. “I supported her in prepping for her case, and I plan to take her to see some court proceedings,” Pettitt said. Of the students who have gone through the program, 70 percent have enrolled in two- and four-year colleges. Wells had already graduated from high school when she started the program in late June. She’s preparing for her undergraduate career at the University of California at Davis in the fall. While the program is run primarily by legal professionals, those involved say they aren’t trying to create lawyers out of the kids. “All we can do is help them to become successful kids and give them what they need to go on in life,” said Henry Ramsey Jr., a center board member and retired Alameda, Calif., Superior Court judge. “If they go on to law school, that’s just gravy.”

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