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Advice & More January 2014

The Invincible Judge Judy: A Favorite Among Baby Boomers and Their Parents

By Teresa Ambord

Then I learned that Judge Judith Sheindlin is the highest paid TV personality in any genre, making $47 million a year, and a favorite among us older folks. I decided to find out what I was missing.

“You’re a liar and I’m a human lie detector!” If you tune in to watch Judge Judy’s show, you’ll hear that fairly often. I used to call her Judge Crabby based on what sounds like harsh responses to some litigants.

I saw it as just another “who’s the baby daddy?” show, as one blogger put it. Then I learned that Judge Judith Sheindlin is the highest paid TV personality in any genre, making $47 million a year, and a favorite among us older folks. I decided to find out what I was missing.

Crabby, yes. Judgmental, by definition. But she is also quite funny. Woe to the litigant who irritates her when she’s hungry. “Don’t waste my time!” she might yell. “I saw the menu, there’s turkey for lunch today!”

Often she bounces her jokes off of her bailiff (whom she refers to as Byrd), when the two of them exchange “oh brother!” looks. Byrd’s full name is Petri Hawkins Byrd. They’re on different professional planes, but there’s an obvious friendship there, and mutual respect. It’s the two of them against the world, at times. On one case when all the litigants admitted to drug use, Sheindlin threw up her hands and said, “The only ones not smoking dope here are me and Byrd!”

 

The Money, The Fame

Broken down into days of work (she works 52 days a year), Judge Judy makes $900,000 a day. Not bad pay if you can get it. And because of the ratings she brings in – the highest Nielsen ratings in 12 years -- she can get it. At age 71, she‘s now in her 18th season, has won countless awards, and has a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.

The list of honors goes on and on. But chances are, Judge Judy would trade all those awards if she could get litigants to take some personal responsibility. It’s probably that dearth of common sense which makes her so darn cranky.

 

A Little Background

Judge Judy didn’t come out of nowhere. She spent years presiding over family court in Manhattan. Her husband, Judge Jerry Sheindlin is now retired from his position in the Bronx Supreme Court. According to DuJour magazine the first time she laid eyes on him, she was evidently smitten. She pointed at him and said “And who is this?” His answer, “Lady, get your finger out of my face.” After they formed a successful relationship, she whipped out a calendar and said it was time to set the date. “I did propose to him,” she told DuJour. “He tried to weasel out of it…whatever. He finally capitulated.”

They were married in 1978 and had five children. Later they divorced, but the divorce was not made in heaven, and they ended up remarrying. Now, she says, “he’s the wind beneath my wings.”

 

Her Courtroom

The show “Judge Judy” involves small claims disputes, and as the lead-in to the show says, the “cases are real.” But the spectators in the audience are actors. Parade.com reports that the actors are instructed to talk to each other before and after each case. Why? So the bailiff has a reason to say, “Order! All rise.”

You may wonder, as I do, why litigants agree to go on the show. I suppose for some, it’s because the show pays the awards that are made when Judge Judy issues a verdict. It’s still hard to believe it is worth the humiliation of airing your dirty laundry on national TV. The list of cases Judge Judy hears is long, but they seem to fall mostly into a few major categories.

  • Money borrowed and not repaid, usually among family members.
  • Cohabiting couples who split up and expect the court to divide their assets. Judge Judy is quick to tell them, that kind of asset protection is for married people and the law does not extend the same rights to unmarrieds.
  • Then there are cases involving landlord/tenant disputes, fender benders, property damage, dog bites, and a whole lot of “he done me wrong, cheated on me with my mama so I set his clothes on fire” cases.

 

Her Book

The title of her first book Don’t Pee on My Leg and Tell Me It’s Raining, echoes the kinds of thing she says all the time. In it, she tells of cases from her family court days. As I read, I could sense her growing frustration with the people she saw in court every day. In case after case, single parents treated the birth of a new baby more as a raise in the welfare check than a joyous addition to the family. Drug-addicted parents, alcohol-addicted grandparents, neglected children.

When the law permitted a real solution, Judge Judy dropped the hammer on flaky parents but often, her hands were tied. Reading about it, I started to feel crabby myself. Now on her court TV show she hears small claims cases, but most still include litigants who show little common sense or personal responsibility, and somehow don’t’ mind flaunting it on national TV.

I get it now. I understand the crabby demeanor though it still rankles at times. Now my question is, how does she maintain her sanity, let alone a beautiful smile, a happy marriage, and a quick wit in the courtroom?

Yeah, she’s cranky, for sure. But now that I’ve looked a little deeper, I admit… I kind of like this crab.

 

And the Verdict Is Egg McMuffin

Judge Judy is a very rich woman, but she’s still pretty down-to-earth. She told DuJour magazine her breakfast of choice is a simple fast food item. “I still think Egg McMuffin is the best breakfast,” and that’s been her habit going all the way back to the early 1990s. She relaxes in her dressing room by playing gin rummy, which she learned from her maternal grandmother. “She didn’t let me win. And I don’t let my grandchildren win!”

 

Teresa Ambord is a former accountant and Enrolled Agent with the IRS. Now she writes full time from her home, mostly for business, and about family when the inspiration strikes.

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