Judge Judy: “This Is My Playpen”

judge judy photo
Chief justice Judith Sheindlin, also known as Judge Judy. Photo by David Shankbone

She is famous for her sharp-witted one-liners which are frankly insulting, and coined the term “Judy-isms.” Litigants in her courtroom are often told: “Don’t pee on my leg and tell me it’s raining”, “I eat morons like you up for breakfast”, “Beauty fades, dumb is forever”, “Clearly you are not wrapped too tight” and “Either you’re playing dumb or it’s not an act.”

It is hard to imagine, then, why people would submit themselves to appear on the court television show, Judge Judy, under the scrutiny of chief justice Judith Sheindlin. “I’ve watched her pretty much verbally destroy people, where they just stand there like babbling idiots at the end of it. So all I have to do is sweep them into a dustbin and take them out and it’s awesome,” says Petri Hawkins-Byrd, the court show’s bailiff.

“More often than not I think that most of the litigants feel as if they have been in some way wronged and they want the opportunity to vent that wrong in a very public way,” says Judy Sheindlin. There is also the incentive that all money judgments are paid by the show’s Producer’s Fund. The defendant(s) and the plaintiff(s) also receive an appearance fee.

The cases heard in Judge Judy’s small claim court are scouted for in other small claims courts across the United States by 60 to 65 researchers. Lawsuits can also be submitted to the show. The producers will read through the cases and select those they deem ideal for good television.

All parties involved in a case sign a binding arbitration agreement – meaning that Judge Judy Sheindlin’s ruling is final and the case cannot be pursued elsewhere. “If you’re going to try to make a fool of the justice system by not following the rules, by flaunting its orders, by not abiding by the laws of the place where you live, there is a consequence. I am your consequence,” says Judy Sheindlin.

Before Judge Judy, Judy Sheindlin was working as a family court judge in Manhattan, New York. She built a reputation as one of the toughest family court judges in the country and was known for her quick decision-making and acerbic wit.

After featuring in a Los Angeles Times article and a segment on 60 Minutes, Judy Sheindlin attracted the attention of Hollywood producers, who approached her to offer the judge her own reality courtroom show. Judge Judy premiered on 16 September 1996.

The show is filmed three days a week every other week at the Sunset Bronson Studios on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles, California – though the set is created to look like it is situated in New York. Judge Judy Sheindlin, who stands at five feet tall, presides from the bench in her black robe with her signature lace collar.

Judge Judy in her television court room. Photo by David Shankbone
Judge Judy in her television courtroom. Photo by Jena Fuller

Lasting for over 20 seasons, Judge Judy is the longest lasting court show in history without cancellations and temporary series endings. Judy Sheindlin has also earned a Guinness World Record on 18 August 2015 for the longest career as a TV judge (court room) – with 18 years, 11 months and 2 days.

Being a judge on a television courtroom is apparently a very lucrative profession. The 74-year-old judge ranked number 48 on Forbes business magazine’s Celebrity 100 list in 2016, with an annual income of $47 million. She also ranked number 52 on the magazine’s America’s Self-Made Women list the same year.

According to E! News she owns five properties: an $11 million penthouse in Naples, an $8.6 million mansion in Naples, a $13.2 million manor in Greenwich, a $10.7 million condo in Beverly Hills and an $8.5 million duplex in New York. She also owns a private jet, which she uses to travel between her job in Los Angeles and her home in Florida.

About the success of her show, Judy Sheindlin says: “It’s clearly not the format since there are many court shows. So it has to be the message and the messenger and some excellent directing, which is why the show looks so good. The message is a simple one: it’s your life, take responsibility for it, say you’re sorry and fess up when you do something wrong. That has to be delivered in an entertaining way and, fortunately, I don’t have to act. I don’t have a script. It is what it is.”


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