On a recent Monday night, a different kind of subway series was underway in a majestic courtroom at the United States Courthouse in lower Manhattan. Two teams, one from St. John’s Law and one from Fordham Law, we’re arguing an employment discrimination case involving a transgender fighter as finalists in the inaugural Red-Ram Challenge.
This unique mock trial competition is the brain child of Megan E. DiBello ’19 and Emily Santoro ’19, who serve as internals director and executive director of the Law School’s Frank S. Polestino Trial Advocacy Institute (PTAI), respectively. “We were looking for ways to make the Spring 2L/3L Internal Competition more robust and rewarding,” says DiBello, who took the lead on organizing the Challenge. “Emily came up with the idea of scrimmaging with Fordham, and we upped the stakes by designing the contest so the competitors had to ‘double swing’ by preparing and arguing both sides of the case. We also required them to use unprepped witnesses, which heightened the challenge even more.”
St. John’s fielded six teams of two and Fordham four teams of two, with the participants arguing one preliminary round at St. John’s Law in Queens and another at Fordham Law in Manhattan before moving on to the final courthouse round. “The St. John’s and Fordham evaluators who judged the rounds didn’t know the competitors’ school affiliations,” DiBello explains. “This anonymity not only ensured fairness, it added to the excitement of the three-day event.”
In the end, the St. John’s team of David Saldamando ’20 and Shannon Stephens ’20 bested the field and took first place against their cross-town rivals. They were coached by PTAI alumni Joanna Matuza ’17 and Dino Litourgis ’16. “It was a wonderful experience,” Stephens says. “From the federal courthouse setting, to learning from our skilled and knowledgeable coaches, to going against such talented Fordham competitors, I’m very thankful for this opportunity.” Saldamando agrees that it was a standout experience. “It was a lot of hard work, but incredibly worth it,” he shares. “Winning this competition, and defeating Fordham, has been a highlight of my law school career to date."
St. John’s also excelled to take four of the challenge’s five individual awards. In addition to her team victory, Stephens was awarded Best Opening Statement. Rebecca Farrar ’20 earned Best Overall Advocate. Best Closing Statement went to Adam Myren ’19, and Andre Oge ‘20 won for Best Direct Examination.
“Emily and Megan came up with a very innovative idea for expanding our mock trial program, and it was great to see them take the Challenge from concept to successful completion,” says Professor Larry Cunningham, who directs the Center for Trial and Appellate Advocacy, PTAI’s home at St. John’s Law. “By design, the St. John’s Law curriculum is a bridge to real-world practice. PTAI’s mock trial competitions, along with our Moot Court Honor Society’s appellate competitions and our Dispute Resolution Society’s mediation, arbitration, and negotiation competitions, provide vital real-world experience and help our students build practical lawyering skills they’ll use throughout their careers. I know our students are already looking forward to putting those skills to the test at next year’s Red-Ram Challenge.”