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John James “J.J.” Snidow ’14 and Irina Vaynerman ’14 Win Top Honors in the Barristers’ Union Prize Trial

Yale Law School students John James “J.J.” Snidow ’14 and Irina Vaynerman ’14 took top honors in the 2012 Barristers’ Union Prize Trial, held April 13, 2012, at Yale Law School. The Prize Trial was the culmination of the annual mock trial competition hosted by the Thomas Swan Barristers’ Union at Yale. Mr. Snidow and Ms. Vaynerman represented the prosecution in the case, State v. Taylor, and Jeff Gurrola ’12 and Michael Shih ’14 represented the defendant, Kelly Taylor. Judge John Gleeson of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York presided. (L-R) Andrew Hahn '13, Irina Vaynerman '14, "J.J." Snidow '14, Judge John Gleeson (E.D.N.Y.), Jeff Gurrola, Michael Shih '14, Lewis Bollard '13, Julie Duncan '12

Mr. Taylor is a prominent attorney practicing intellectual property law in the fictional city of Armadillo, State of Lone Star. He stood accused of murdering Judge Robert Cañas, a state district court judge with a long history of ruling against Mr. Taylor. On July 6, 2007, Judge Cañas threw out a jury verdict awarding Mr. Taylor’s client $10.5 million in damages, prompting Mr. Taylor to say to the Judge on the record, “I’ll burn you for this.”

In the opening statement for the prosecution, Mr. Snidow suggested that the murder was “twenty years in the making.” Mr. Gurrola, opening for the defense, explained that the evidence of murder was paltry at best, and that the evidence would show Judge Cañas died of natural causes after suffering a heart attack brought on by an overdose of the drug Viagra. The witnesses were competent, often elusive, and sometimes even humorous on the stand as the advocates elicited testimony through carefully prepared examinations. The jury was particularly amused when the lead investigator in the case, Chris Jensen, had no choice but to claim on cross-examination that only one picture of the crime scene survived because he “accidentally pressed the ‘delete every picture but one’ button” on his digital camera.

Judge Gleeson, apparently unfazed by the unsettling facts of the case, displayed characteristic wisdom and thoughtfulness in his rulings. In closing arguments, Ms. Vaynerman expertly presented the facts supporting the State’s theory, which was followed by Mr. Shih’s rousing appeal to the reasonable doubt standard. After the jury initially split on the question of guilt, a round of intense deliberation ultimately resulted in Mr. Taylor’s acquittal.

Mr. Snidow was awarded the John Fletcher Caskey Prize for best presentation of a case on final trial, and Ms. Vaynerman earned the John Currier Gallagher Prize for showing the most proficiency in the presentation of a case on final trial. Judge Gleeson remarked that it was exceedingly difficult to determine just two prizewinners and that each competitor displayed notable trial advocacy skills.

The Thomas Swan Barristers’ Union sponsors a mock trial competition every spring semester at Yale Law School. Students act as attorneys and present the prosecution or defense side of a criminal case in a simulated jury trial, performing pre-trial motions, opening statements, direct and cross-examinations, and closing arguments. The competition culminates in the Prize Trial, over which a sitting Federal Judge presides.