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With One Last Photo St. John’s Newest Law Grads Become New York’s Newest Prosecutors

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Caitlyn O’Neill 16 recognized a milestone moment that needed to be captured. Taking the lead, she gathered some of her classmates for a special graduation day photo. Like her, most in the group had participated in the Law School’s appellate or trial advocacy programs. And many had worked in local prosecutors’ offices as student externs or clinicians. Come this fall, they’ll all share the same professional title—Assistant District Attorney.

The latest St. John’s Law graduates to become New York’s newest ADAs are:

  • Mena Beshay (New York County)
  • Jamie Breslin (Bronx County)
  • Donald Casadonte (Nassau County)
  • Daniella Ciollo (Bronx County)
  • Justin Davis (Bronx County)   
  • Elizabeth Desmond (Bronx County)
  • Erin Dobbins (Bronx County)  
  • Brittany Heaney (Kings County)
  • Kelvin Henry (Kings County)
  • Amanda Iannuzzi (Bronx County)
  • Sonja Jamelo (Bronx County)
  • Alyssa Lebron (Queens County)
  • Konstantinos Litourgis (Queens County)
  • Michael Lynch (Bronx County)
  • Stephanie Ognibene (Suffolk County)
  • Caitlyn O’Neill (Bronx County)
  • Nicole Rella (Queens County)
  • Erin Teresky (Bronx County)

These 18 members of the Class of 2016 proudly follow in the footsteps of hundreds of St. John’s Law alumni who have served the public good as ADAs.

They’re also the beneficiaries of “Pathways to Practice,” the Law School’s integrated approach to legal study and career development that encourages students to focus on a legal discipline, to gain experience in the field, and to network through Law School events, student organizations, and co-curricular activities. 

All 1Ls take a foundational course in Criminal Law. As 2Ls they can take Evidence and, from there, they can choose from a range of traditional substantive courses like Criminal Procedure: Investigation and Criminal Procedure: Adjudication. Upper level students hone their lawyering skills through externships and internships, in-house and partner clinics, and skills-based courses. They also build key skills in Trial Advocacy, Advanced Trial Advocacy, Appellate Advocacy, New York Practice, and similar courses as well as in the co-curricular Moot Court Honor Society, Frank S. Polestino Trial Advocacy Institute, and Dispute Resolution Society.

Beyond these curricular and co-curricular offerings, students receive guidance and support from the Career Development Office. According to Kimathi Gordon-Somers, associate director of career development, coordinator of the externship program, and former ADA, the Law School’s aspiring prosecutors can attend an annual panel program on applying and interviewing with district attorneys’ offices. The program brings alumni and others who are prosecutors in the New York City area to campus to discuss the interview process. One of the most popular topics the panelists cover is the hypothetical question that interviewers typically pose. It’s such a major discussion point that the Career Development Office created a spinoff workshop series devoted to it.   

In the workshops, students get an overview of the interview process before focusing in on the various hypothetical questions that may be asked. “We discuss the law surrounding the questions; address the context of the interview; and explore how to deal with the personality of the interviewer,” Professor Gordon-Somers says. “By the end of the workshop, we’ve answered three or four hypothetical questions step by step. The idea is for the students to come away knowing how to tackle a hypothetical, and how to develop their responses so that the interviewers can see how they process the law and the theory.”

All workshop participants are invited to schedule a mock interview with Professor Gordon-Somers. “The interviews are about an hour long and I record them so that the students can review their performance afterwards,” he says. “I ask general questions, like why they want to be a prosecutor and why they want to work in this particular office. I also ask about their background and professional experiences before moving on to a number of hypothetical questions. We then review their responses to see where they were successful and where there’s room for improvement.”

Students who receive a call back from a prospective employer can participate in a mock panel interview with Professor Gordon-Somers, their assigned career counselor, and, often, a third counselor. The final step in the mock interview process is geared to DA offices that have applicants present an opening statement during their third interview round.

“Serving the greater good is essential to the role of a prosecutor and this, along with their intelligence, grit, and work ethic, makes our students a very good fit for this type of work,” Professor Gordon-Somers says. “When you then pair their personal desire with capable guidance from our faculty and administration, students can hone their skills and enhance the very qualities that will make them excel in public service, like countless St. John’s Law alumni before them.”