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Judge Loves 'My Cousin Vinny,' the Master Trial Lawyer

By William Vogeler, Esq. | Last updated on

Vinny Gambini was not a real lawyer, but he was a master of cross-examination.

Gambini, of "My Cousin Vinny" fame, impeached a key witness during a criminal trial. If you don't know the scene, you missed out on one of the finer points of trial work.

It's not always what you know about the law that wins. Sometimes, it's about knowing how to cook.

"A Master Class"

Judge Merrick Garland knows this. A former nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court, he is Chief Judge of the DC Circuit Court of Appeals.

President Barack Obama had nominated Garland to replace Justice Antonin Scalia, but politicians stalled the process and the Senate never voted on the nomination. A lesser judge might have faded into the past, but not Garland.

He has soldiered on, and recently showed he didn't lose his sense of humor. He quoted Vinny Gambini in an opinion.

"In 1992, Vincent Gambini taught a master class in cross-examination," Garland wrote in Novato Healthcare Center v. National Labor Relations Board. It had to do with timing.

It's About Timing

In Novato, Garland said the union's trial counsel must have learned from "My Cousin Vinny." The judge quoted Gambini's cross-examination of a witness about how he cooked his grits.

Q: Instant grits?

A: No self-respecting Southerner uses instant grits. I take pride in my grits.

Q: So, Mr. Tipton, how could it take you five minutes to cook your grits, when it takes the entire grit-eating world 20 minutes? ... Were these magic grits?

Objection, overruled. Vinny won, and so did the union.

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