Judge Judy: 40 Interesting Facts About the Woman Behind the BenchBy John P.
Judge Judy is an American reality court show that is based on arbitration and is hosted by former Manhattan Family Court Judge Judith Sheindlin. Though many people wonder if the show was fake, Sheindlin genuinely adjudicated real-life small-claims cases in a simulated courtroom set on the show. All parties involved signed arbitration contracts agreeing to her decision prior to the hearings, and the program was broadcast in first-run syndication.
It took her less than two years to surpass Oprah Winfrey’s show in the Nielsen ratings. Each program has a unique narrative to tell, from the odd tale of the Tupperware Lady to the dastardly deeds of the eBay Cell Phone Scammer. However, behind the bench lurks a story that many fans are unaware of. Judy has a wealth of amazing anecdotes to share. Let’s take a look at the best of them.
How It All Started
Kaye Switzer and Sandi Spreckman of the People’s Court producers agency, now known as Rebel Entertainment, approached Sheindlin in March 1995 and asked if she would want to preside over her own courtroom series. Sheindlin eventually agreed, and the talent agency released a pilot episode to pitch to Larry Lyttle, then-president of CBS Big Ticket, in 1995.
Switzer, Spreckman, and Richard Lawrence, the owner of Rebel Entertainment, later sued CBS and Sheindlin on multiple occasions, alleging that they were promised profit shares for their role in launching the show and introducing the two parties.
Five Days a Month
Jimmy Kimmel Live! welcomed Sheindlin as a guest on the 13th of September, 2011. Sheindlin said, “five days,” when asked by host Kimmel how many days in a month she works. To get enough episodes, Sheindlin and her producers only had to tape five cases a day, two days per week.
Each season, Judge Judy “presided” over around 650 claims. As of the completion of Judy Sheindlin’s 23rd season, roughly 15,600 claims had been filed at her Hollywood set.
Standing for the Truth
There have been few shows in the last couple of decades that have had the kind of success that Judge Judy enjoyed. Judy continues to maintain her popularity year after year. She began as a new voice and has remained a noteworthy presence on daytime television ever since.
Many regular watchers and fans of Judge Judy support Sheindlin’s handling of the parties that appear before her, referring to the litigants as an “endless procession of idiots” that Sheindlin has to deal with.
Careers and Cancellation
Divorce Court and People’s Court, the only two court shows with more seasons than Judge Judy, have both built their longevity on series cancellations/reincarnations and a slew of judge changes. Early seasons of Divorce Court were scripted, with performers acting out court transcripts from real cases.
Sheindlin’s tenure as a television arbitrator is now the longest of any judge, earning her a spot in the 2015 Guinness World Records. Judge Judy has the longest-running individual production life of court shows, with no cancellations or temporary termination during its tenure.
Judge Wapner has slammed the gavel down on Judge Judy, declaring her a disgrace to all judges. Retired LA County Superior Judge Joseph Wapner – the original star of ThePeople’s Court – was not fond of Judith Sheindlin’s character, saying it is harsh and provides the public a false picture of US courtrooms.
Wapner stated, “She is not depicting a judge in the way that I believe a judge should act. She’s rude and obnoxious.” While we have to agree that Judy can be harsh, in most cases, her attitude seems warranted (and entertaining).
All in Presentation
In the courtroom, a litigator must observe several strict regulations, but there are additional rules to follow when appearing on television. If you appear before Judge Judy, you are not permitted to pause while speaking. You must also maintain eye contact with her at all times.
She’s threatening enough on TV; imagine how terrifying she is in person. Other regulations in the room include not speaking when it’s not your turn and not ever addressing anyone other than the judge.
Sheindlin celebrated her 20th season of Judge Judy on September 14, 2015. The show is the first court show genre to last 20 seasons without being canceled, as well as the first to do so with a single arbitrator.
On September 14, 2015, Sheindlin was inducted into the Guinness World Records as television’s longest-serving arbitrator or judge. Judge Judy aired for a total of 25 seasons. Josh Getlin wrote a glowing piece about Sheindlin in honor of the show’s 25th and final season.
Real Life Real Jobs
Who else on set is as genuine as Judy? Petri Hawkins-Byrd, known simply as Byrd on the show, was the bailiff for the entire 25-season run of Judge Judy, making him the longest-serving bailiff in the history of court television.
Judge Judy’s professional association with Byrd stretches back to when he served as her bailiff in the Manhattan family court system. When Byrd learned of Sheindlin’s program, he wrote her a letter of congratulations and expressed interest in being her bailiff on camera.
Subject of Criticism
Judge Judy’s courtroom style was condemned by Joseph Wapner on November 26, 2002. He stated, “Judge Judy is discourteous and abrasive. She’s not slightly unpleasant. She’s insulting people in capital letters.”
“She tells people to shut up. She is a disgrace to the profession. She’s arrogant. She’s rude. She demeans people,” Wapner said at the time. “Judges need to observe certain standards of conduct. She just doesn’t do it, and I resent that. The public is apt to get the impression that this is how actual judges conduct themselves.” What do you think of his assessment?
America’s Two Famous Judges
When it comes to judging in America, it seems that women are ideal candidates for the role. Ruth Bader Ginsberg was once asked if she would consider changing places with Judge Judy. Would she rather be on television or on the Supreme Court of the United States?
Though Ruth Bader Ginsberg passed away in 2022, the American public remembers her as being severe yet wise. What was Ginsberg’s reaction to this question? Unsurprisingly, she stated that she would not take Judge Judy’s position.
Stranger Than Fiction
To fill the Judge Judy courtroom, researchers comb through disputes filed in small claims courts all over the country. The Freedom of Information Act allows these researchers to note down instances that they believe would be interesting to see on television. They then deliver briefs to the show’s producers.
Around 3% of these litigants are approached by the show to see if they’d like to forgo a civil court hearing in exchange for a free trip to Los Angeles. They all receive $850 for their attendance and $40 each day for filming.
Nicki Minaj Is an Avid Fan
In a 2013 Reader’s Digest poll, Judge Judy was rated as more trustworthy than any serving Supreme Court justice in the United States. Rapper Nicki Minaj admitted to having a fascination with Judge Judy in August of 2010.
The hip hop singer and American Idol judge admitted that she had been watching TV shows as part of her “holiday.” Apparently, her guilty TV pleasure is the courtroom drama Judge Judy, which she claims she has spent much of her free time viewing.
How does a judge detect deception in her courtroom? It is well known that litigants have to keep eye contact with Sheindlin while relaying testimony. As the judge herself noted, “When you can’t look me in the eye and give me the narrative, that shows you’re lying.”
It’s over when you lie in front of Judge Judy. You have entirely lost your credibility, and you have no hope of winning that case. All litigants who appear in front of her should be aware of this. “Baloney,” Judy says on TV while criticizing someone.
A Judge Judy Life Hack!
Judge Judy launches a new season every year in September. However, the episodes are not shown in the sequence in which they were shot. Instead, they are played randomly. The best episodes are picked to kick off a new season. S, you should watch the first few weeks of a new season if you want to see Judge Judy at her finest!
To explain this choice, the judge uses wine drinking as an example. A genuinely good bottle of wine is never served third – it should always be the first bottle enjoyed.
People’s Court star Joseph Wapner, Judge Judy’s tightest competition, was released from the show in 1993. The courtroom-based reality show was eventually revived in 1997 but with a different judge managing the proceedings.
Judy took it upon herself to call the network and inquire about hosting the show instead of Wapner. The receptionist was not impressed and swiftly hung up on the superstar. Thankfully, Judy wasn’t in desperate need of employment! Indeed, her show was just taking off at the time.
What’s in a Name?
Judy was adamant that the show should not be named after her, so it was originally titled “Hot Bench,” which is a real appellate court phrase. Thankfully, the producers understood that Hot Bench would be meaningless to non-legal spectators. So, they insisted on the name they wanted.
The moniker “Judge Justice” was considered for a while, but the producers persisted in getting their star to agree to have her name on the show. After a long and successful run, we have a feeling Judy is low-key happy that she caved to the pressure!
Judy returned to 60 Minutes in 2003, ten years after her first appearance on the show in 1993. “I have a contract with the production firm to continue the program until 2006,” she told viewers. We will have been producing this program for ten years at that point.
“Right now,” she continued, “a successful ten-year run would suffice. That would be fantastic, in my opinion. It would be wonderful if we could end on a good note, with me saying, ‘It’s been ten years, and I’m still having fun with a second career.’”
The Bailiff’s Sense of Humor
Officer Byrd appears on television to be nothing but professional, yet he is recognized off camera for his sense of humor. According to the judge, he has a surprising talent for impressions. However, his wit went too far once, and he almost lost his job.
He put on Judge Sheindlin’s robe and glasses while in New York and began imitating some of Judy’s best comments. Judge Judy happened to be there at the event. We wonder whether she unleashed her famous fury on him!
Judy’s Rule Is Law
Judge Judy’s presence necessitates specific regulations for everyone, not just the defendants and claimants. The audience extras must likewise adhere to the court rules. When extras arrive on set, they must dress to impress. They are not permitted to wear items bearing brand names or logos.
Judy won’t force you to leave if you arrive in less than perfect attire, but she will reprimand you and insist that you dress more appropriately the next time you visit her courtroom. When you stand before Judge Judy, you should not look like you are going to a beach party!
How does Judy manage to keep such a tight schedule? Each season of Judge Judy comprises 260 new episodes, which she squeezes into 52 days of production, working every other week.
She appreciates the producers’ approach of spreading out her filming days and filming many cases in one day, which allows her to work about five days per month. However, this means they sometimes end up filming as many as 12 cases in one day. The judge does not appear to dislike working under pressure, and she must appreciate all the free days she gets to enjoy each month.
On-Screen and Off-Screen Lawsuits
The two producers who offered Judy her show – Switzer and Spreckman – have been embroiled in a real-life legal battle with Sheindlin and the CBS network. Their compensation claims kicked off in 2018. The two producers claim that they were never compensated for finding her in the 1990s.
The couple is seeking $4.75 million, claiming they were never paid their share of the Judge Judy show library sale in 2017. It appears that life is copying art. However, the woman on the bench is having a lot less fun with the off-screen battles.
Decades of Experience
What do fans of Judge Judy adore about her? In the courtroom, it’s her plain, no-nonsense demeanor. She worked in the New York City family court system for 20 years before turning to television. She was noted for her candor, rough words, and genuine frustration. “I can’t stand stupid,” she has always said.
Judy warns the lawyers who appeared before her in court, “I want first-time offenders to consider their courtroom appearance as the second-worst encounter of their lives, circumcision being the first.”
Sheindlin’s success with Judge Judy garnered her three Emmy Awards, a Guinness World Records nomination for longest television arbitration, and a spot at the top of a list of the most-loved court series.
Judge Judy, like other court shows, was low-cost to produce and consequently generated a lot of money. Producers pay around half the cost of a single sitcom episode to film an entire week’s worth of episodes. No wonder Judge Judy has enjoyed so many successful seasons!
Judge Judy brings in at least $160 million in licensing fees and advertising revenue for CBS each year. The show has an average daily audience of around ten million viewers, which is higher than many primetime shows. Who pays for Judge Judy to be on TV? Who watches her shows on a daily basis?
According to reports, seventy-five percent of the daytime audience for Judge Judy were women, and twenty-five percent were men. In February 2014, it was stated that the majority of viewers were elderly women, African Americans, and Latinos.
Judy’s popularity prompted the previous producers of People’s Court to contact her husband, Judge Jerry Sheindlin, to fill the role of former star Ed Koch on the other known court genre show. In 1999, Jerry made his debut on the show’s 15th season.
This resulted in a ratings war between a well-known husband and a well-known wife. In the end, though, the husband was no match for his wife. Jerry was replaced by Marilyn Milian after just four seasons.
Court Battles in Real Life
Randy Douthit, the executive producer of Judge Judy, has been sued twice by staff members who previously worked on the show. Of course, real-life court battles aren’t always as entertaining as they appear on television.
Karen Needle, a 54 years old former associate producer, is one of the two employees who claims she was unlawfully terminated because she was too old. The 37-year-old producer claims that her boss, Randy Douthit, screened out people of certain races over his seven years on the show.
Beneath The Judge’s Robe
In the courtroom, the daytime TV star stands out for more than just her caustic wit. She dresses in a simple black robe with an intricate lace collar and occasionally puts on a pair of glasses to read legal documents.
Sheindlin has been known to publicly scold plaintiffs who arrive in skimpy clothing or “beach gear” in her courtroom, although behind the bench and behind the robe, she is generally dressed in jeans and a tank top or T-shirt. Of course, you’ll never see that on camera; such are television’s tricks.
Judge Judy must be given points for style. She and her husband celebrated her new position by taking a two-week trip to Greece before going on TV. She bought a lovely white lace collar from a local kiosk and craft dealer during the trip.
Many male Judges had white shirt collars peeping out of their black robes, and this provided the inspiration for Judy’s lace piece. “That beautiful little lady with the white lace collar behind the bench couldn’t hurt a fly,” you might think. However, that lace gives the wrong impression!
Life on Set
In February 2013, Jim Harbaugh, the head football coach of the San Francisco 49ers, admitted that he is a Judge Judy superfan, saying, “I’m a big fan of the Judge Judy program. When you lie in her courtroom, then it’s over.”
Harbaugh and his father were lucky enough to sit in on Judge Judy tapings a few months later. The lucky men also went on a lunch with Sheindlin as part of the experience, and they spent time with her before and after tapings.
Judy’s father, Murray Blum, was a dentist with an office in the family home. Before sedatives were common in dentistry, a dentist’s finest tool for distracting worried patients was the gift of gab. So, Murray honed his storytelling skills out of necessity.
Judge Sheindlin inherited her father’s sense of humor. She learned how to deliver a punchline effectively after years of listening to her father’s chatter at the dinner table and at family events. Judge Judy’s wit has always contributed to the show’s popularity.
Keep It Low!
When inside the courtroom, Judge Judy has a set of regulations that must be obeyed. One of these regulations is that no one in the audience is permitted to react to anything mentioned throughout the case. The best reactions come from the star herself.
When people are cheering for her, the Judge rarely makes a fuss. She knows her sense of humor will always save the day. However, we must admit that the audience comments at the end are often equally spot on.
Judge Judy received national recognition thanks to the 60 Minutes feature, which led to an offer from a literary agency to write her first book just days after it aired. Tell Me It’s Raining and Don’t Pee On My Leg, published on February 7, 1996, was Sheindlin’s response to the offer.
HarperCollins, the book’s publisher, expressed dissatisfaction with her title, arguing that no one would promote it under such a name. Sheindlin stayed firm on the title and went on to sell 216,709 copies.
“New York, New York”
Don’t be fooled by what you see on television. Judge Judy is filmed in California, despite the fact that the screen depicts New York as the location. The entire season of the show takes about 52 days to tape.
The Manhattan Bridge and the New York state flag behind the bench are not to be trusted. A California earthquake occurs every now and again, and if the editing staff misses it, the camera wobble makes it seem as though New York is trembling!
The Whole Library
Sheindlin has written a collection of nonfiction works, including Beauty Fades, Dumb Is Forever (1999), Keep It Simple Stupid: You’re Smarter Thank You Look, and the children’s book Judge Judy Sheindlin’s Win or Lose by How You Choose! (2000).
Sheindlin writes with the same dramatic directness that animates her on-air demeanor. The titles, which are merely the first of many declarative chestnuts, best express her concept for each book. Sheindlin’s voice is crystal clear, and fans of her show will recognize it as they read.
The Los Angeles Times
Sheindlin remains one of the country’s hardest family court judges. However, she expressed gratitude to her employees after taping the final episode of her syndicated court show in April 2021. “Let me begin by thanking the two persons that actually started my adventure,” she said to her tearful team.
One of these people was Josh Getlin, a Los Angeles Times reporter who was in New York in 1992 when his wife, Heidi Evans, recommended he do a profile of Sheindlin. Judy’s breakthrough in the entertainment industry was sparked by the subsequent essay written by Getlin.
How Judge Judy Makes a Ruling
Sheindlin often began each case by describing the issues in dispute. This was followed by initial questioning of the parties regarding dates, timings, locations, and other crucial facts before getting into the meat of the lawsuit.
Sheindlin, who governed the proceedings throughout the cases, typically allowed just brief portions of testimony as she had already read the sworn statements of each party prior to the taping. This is why she was always able to respond quickly and disallow responses that were imprecise. God help anyone who interrupted her!
The Great Reward
The award cap on Judge Judy, like most “syndi-court” shows, was $5,000. The award for each judgment was paid by the show’s producers from a fund set aside for the purpose. Judge Judy ruled by either issuing a verdict of a specific dollar amount or dismissing the lawsuit entirely.
Cases could not be retried or refiled elsewhere after being decided in this manner. However, if Sheindlin dismissed the claim “without prejudice,” it was possible for it to be refiled in another forum.
All About the Money
Being a judge on television pays significantly more than being an in-court judge. Sheindlin was ranked the highest-paid host in November 2018 by Forbes, owing in large part to her $47 million per year salary. Of course, Judy earns more than this.
Sheindlin got $147 million in 2018, including $100 million from the claimed sale of her show’s current and future episode library to CBS, as well as her $47 million arbitration salary. That equates to $900,000 every day, despite having only 52 working days in a year. Can we swap jobs?
Judge Judy vs. the Internet
Though Judy Sheindlin is unlikely to hear the case, the production firm behind the daytime television sued a YouTube user for allegedly sharing an unlicensed video of the reality TV court show.
The lawsuit, filed on October 17 in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York, claims that YouTube user Ignacio De Los Angeles placed a September 2006 episode on the video-streaming site without the consent of Big Ticket Television Inc., the business that produces Judge Judy.
Fake It ‘Til You Make It
In April of 2013, it was discovered that a pair of litigants who appeared on the show in 2010 had faked their lawsuit. Jonathan Coward and Kate Levitt were musicians, and they structured the case in such a way that the plaintiff was sure to get the requested award. Judge Judy ruled in Levitt’s favor and gave him $1,250. They got this in addition to their $250 appearance fees and free trip to Hollywood.
However, it turned out that the pair were real-life friends, and they were never in a dispute. Instead, they split the award from the fake lawsuit evenly. It appears that the producers were aware of the forgery yet allowed it to happen anyway.