DiscoverLaw on FilmMy Cousin Vinny (Guest: Judge Jed S. Rakoff) (episode 10)
My Cousin Vinny (Guest: Judge Jed S. Rakoff) (episode 10)

My Cousin Vinny (Guest: Judge Jed S. Rakoff) (episode 10)

Update: 2023-09-12


My Cousin Vinny (1992) tells the story of two college students from New York (played by Ralph Maccio and Mitchell Whitfield) who are mistakenly arrested and charged with the murder of a store clerk in Alabama. They turn to one of their cousins, Vincent (“Vinny”) LaGuardia Gambini, played by Joe Pesci, for help. Vinny is a personal injury lawyer from Brooklyn who is newly admitted to the bar and has virtually no experience. But somehow Vinny, with the assistance of his savvy fiancé Mona Lisa Vito, played by Marisa Tomei in an Oscar-winning role, turns in a brilliant courtroom performance and gets the case dismissed. The script is by Dale Launer and direction by Jonathan Lynn.  Lane Smith plays the prosecutor and Fred Gwynne plays the judge whom Vinny spars with throughout the film. Our guest to discuss this classic American comedy about the law and lawyers is the Honorable Jed S. Rakoff, U.S. District Judge for the Southern District of New York, one of the country's most prominent and influential jurists.


0:00      Introduction    

5:39      A fantastic—and funny—law movie  

7:45      Vinny crossing the witness on the southern delicacy of grits

11:12   The problem of wrongful eyewitness identification

14:17   Vinny crossing the witness on her need for better glasses

20:07   Judge Rakoff reflects on one his favorite cross-examinations

21:47   Mona Lisa Vito’s expert testimony

25:16   Unpacking the Daubert standard

29:09   One questionable ruling in the movie 

32:33   The local community in jury trials

35:47   A comedy about wrongful convictions

40:00   A great trial movie but trials are vanishing

43:11   No substitute for trial experience

Further Reading:

Anderson, Judge Joseph F. Jr., “Ten Things Every Trial Court Lawyer Could Learn from Vincent La Guardia Gambini,” South Carolina Lawyer (Jan. 2017)

Bailey, Jason, “‘My Cousin Vinny’ at 30: An Unlikely Oscar Winner,” N.Y. Times (Mar. 11, 2022)

Bergman, Paul, “Teaching Evidence the ‘Reel’ Way,”  21 Quinnipiac L. Rev. 973 (2003)

Farr, Nick, “Abnormal Interviews: My Cousin Vinny Screenwriter/Co-Producer Dale Launer,” Abnormal Use: An Unreasonably Dangerous Products Liability Blog (Mar. 14, 2012)

Greene, Andy, “‘What is a Yute?’: An Oral History of ‘My Cousin Vinny,’” Rolling Stone (Mar. 7, 2022)

Welk, Brian, “My Cousin Vinny’ 25th Anniversary: Behind the Scene that Won Marisa Tomei Her Oscar,” The Wrap (Mar. 13, 2017)


Law on Film is created and produced by Jonathan Hafetz. Jonathan is a professor at Seton Hall Law School. He has written many books and articles about the law. He has litigated important cases to protect civil liberties and human rights while working at the ACLU and other organizations. Jonathan is a huge film buff and has been watching, studying, and talking about movies for as long as he can remember.
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My Cousin Vinny (Guest: Judge Jed S. Rakoff) (episode 10)

My Cousin Vinny (Guest: Judge Jed S. Rakoff) (episode 10)

Jonathan Hafetz