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TV Judges - Justice in the Afternoon

Updated on October 10, 2014

The $45 Million Woman

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Judge Judy is the leader of the gang of TV Judges. TV courtroom shows have become a time-honored American entertainment genre. There is something fascinating about watching real people with real disputes get their day in court. Well, a half hour anyway. These shows have been around for decades, proving that these shows have a strong and loyal audience. On TV ratings rule and the staying power of these shows is for one reason only: people watch them.

The Shows are for Real - It's not an Act - It's Binding Arbitration

These shows are a reality TV airing of a small claims court proceeding. What most of the shows have in common is that they are binding arbitrations that the parties agree to. So when a TV judge renders a decision it is a real one. The people are not actors, and the disputes are genuine. The parties agree to the arbitration contract, and the decision is enforceable as a contract in a real court. As with any arbitration there are rules and regulations concerning appeals. For people who love the drama of the courtroom, and have their afternoons free, these courtroom battles are a court watcher's dream.

Time for Wapner

The TV judges genre began in 1981 with the The People’s Court and the stern but avuncular Judge Joseph Wapner. This was the first of the shows that did not use actors, but actual judges. Wapner had served for 18 years on the Los Angeles County Superior Court. Judge Wapner starred on the show for 12 years covering 2,484 episodes. Wapner, if you did not watch the show, was also immortalized by Dustin Hoffman’s character in the movie The Rain Man, when the autistic Raymond would announce every day like clockwork that it was time to watch his favorite show: “Time for Wapner.” After the successful 12-year run of The Peoples' Court, Judge Wapner presided over a courtroom series involving animals with Judge Wapner’s Animal Court. The show ran for two seasons from 1998 to 2000. Judge Wapner also authored two books A View from the Bench and Judge Wapner's Guide to Small Claims Court. Judge Wapner, along with Judge Judith Sheindlin (Judge Judy) was memorialized with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. They are the only two TV judges to receive the honor.

Judge Judy

Like Judge Wapner, Judge Judy was once a real judge, having served on the Manhattan Family Court. The Judge Judy Show began in September 1996 and is still going strong. Judge Judy is famous for her stern and sometimes abrasive style. She insists on strict adherence to the rules, not only from the litigant's but also from the audience. The show is wildly popular, having achieved the status as the most popular and highly rated show on daytime television, with a Nielsen rating of seven. In one year, 2000-2001 Judge Judy actually surpassed the Oprah Winfrey show.

Judge Judy is known for charming New York accent and her "Judyisms," such as "Beauty fades, dumb is forever," "Do I have 'stupid' written over my forehead?" or "Does it look like I need help from you?"

Judith Sheindlin earns $45 Million a year, which is not bad for an arbitrator. To put this into perspective, consider that John Roberts, Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court earns $223,500 a year. But of course Judge Judy is not paid for her services as a judge but as an entertainer, a star.

Judge Lynn Toler

Divorce Court

As of 2012, Divorce Court entered its 34th season, making it the most long standing of the TV reality courtroom shows. In its earlier episodes beginning in 1957, the cases were actually reenactments of actual divorces and the cast members were actors. In 1999 Divorce Court adopted the pattern of the other TV reality shows and went for the arbitration formula. What you see are real divorce cases involving real people and the judge's decisions are binding. Divorce Court is currently presided over by Judge Lynn Toler.

Judge Joe Brown

The Judge Joe Brown show premiered in September 1998. Judge Brown received his law degree from UCLA and went on to become State Criminal Court of Shelby County Tennessee. The set of the Judge Joe Brown Show is right next to Judge Judy's set. Both shows are produced by Big Ticket Television and are syndicated by CBS. Judge Brown has a flair for the dramatic, and will often castigate a witness in harsh tones. According to an article (cite) Judge Brown was the second highest paid TV personality at $20 Million a year, second only to Judge Judy.

Judge Karen Mills-Francis

This show first aired in September 2008. Judge Karen wears a maroon robe rather than a black one. A difference between the Judge Karen show is that she permits the litigants to cross examine witnesses. There is a segment at the end of the show entitled "Ask Judge Karen," where the judge answers videotaped questions from viewers. In her professional life, Judge Karen served as a Miami-Dade County Court judge. According to the announcer at the beginning of the show, "She's tough, she's fair, and she cares." The show was cancelled in 2009 but is aired in reruns.

Judge Greg Mathis

Judge Mathis has an interesting past. As a juvenile offender he spent time in jail. After graduating from the University of Detroit law school (to which he was provisionally admitted because of his criminal past) it took him a few years to be admitted to the bar. He went on to serve as a Michigan District Court Judge. Here the judge speak for himself on his website.

Judge Alex Ferrer

Judge Ferrer was born in Havana, Cuba but immigrated to the United States with his family when he was one-year-old. After a few years as a police officer he received his law degree from the University of Miami. He served as an administrative judge with the Criminal Division of the Eleventh Judicial Circuit. He was also an appellate judge. The Judge Alex Show premiered in September 2005. Like the other shows, the Judge Alex Show is a binding arbitration proceeding, where the litigants agree to be bound by his decision.

The TV Judge shows are fun, and like sports, the outcomes are not easily predictable. One of the societal benefits to these shows is the educational experience the viewers receive, not only the entertainment.

The writer of this article is the author of Justice in America: How it Works - How it Fails, a book about the American legal system.


Copyright © 2012 by Russell F. Moran

What is your favorite TV Judge, including those in reruns

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    • profile image

      Russ Moran (rfmoran) 7 months ago

      Hi Luci - Thanks for stopping by. Glad you enjoyed the article.

    • profile image

      Luci von Oya 8 months ago

      Hi rfmoran,

      Judge Judy is my fave tv judge, followed by the 2% Judge Joe Brown.

      Judge Judy. Has anyone ever sought to officiate all of Judge Judy's cases, or is there a website that does enlist a case by case titles of all of Judge Judy's episodes?

      In the study of law one can call up on cases which have affected statutory law, such as in the case of Lee v Lee which affected Company Law, but what about fictitious Cases that have influenced our societies?

      Everything is documented about the legendary Dr Who, Harry Potter, James Bond, Paddington Bear, Robin Hood, Star Trek Voyages and the Starship Enterprise, but nothing about the legendary Judge Judy cases.

      Has any ever sought to list by case or case number all of Judge Judy's cases?

      Before Judge Judy hears any case the programme starts off with an announcement like this: Announcer: “You are about to enter the courtroom of Judge Judith Sheindlin. The people are real. The cases are real. The rulings are final. This is her courtroom. This is Judge Judy”.

      Byrd the Bailiff: “Order, all rise”.

      Announcer: “— is suing --- for money loaned.

      --- is counterclaiming for non-payment of rent". Byrd, the Bailiff: "Be seated! Your honour, this is case number 163, --- vs ---. All parties have been sworn in". This means that all Judge Judy cases are filed, named and numbered.

      But where is the official website that lists all these files, named and case numbers? This would make it so much easier to find your favourite episodes, rather than leaving to 'You Tube' 'uploaders' and any other websites where uploading is permitted, where the 'uploaders' tend to rename or categorise the episodes by the events that take place during the show.

      By the way the Judge Judy cases I Am looking for:

      1. The girl who drank 'Remy Martin' and went to a hotel room with her boyfriend, leaving her child with a relative. This was an Assault case. When the girl returned to collect the child the relative would not release the child to the parent as she was drunk - high on 'Remy Martin', in which the assault took place. Judge Judy asked her to take a hair follicle test and she refused, stating it has nothing to do with the assault that took place.

      If any can name the season and episode, I'd be very grateful. 2. Judge Judy says to a man 'you've just been shamed on national tv". This was the clip that was used a trailer for Judge Judy on UK CBS Reality a few months back. 3. Judge Judy tells 'your bad temper started this whole mess, and my bad temper is gonna finish it - judgement for the plaintiff… This was a family feud or a neighbour dispute.

      Judge Joe Brown

      I like Judge Joe Brown because like Judge Judy, it’s not just a job, it’s a responsibility to raise the standards and the mindset of humanity.

      Judge Judy is indignant to the stupidity of certain human groups, so too is Judge Joe Brown.

      In some cases it doesn’t matter who you are, where you grew up, how rich, poor or supportive the family is, as humans we all suffer the same fate at various ages and stages in our lives (negative), or we choose our destiny - we choose to elevate and motivate ourselves to reach a heightened stage of mature consciousness, sooner rather than later.

      Traditionally males have a shorter life span than women, so traditionally it couldn’t have been easy for Judge Joe Brown to stay focussed on his path - even to this day, Judge Joe Brown is a subject for the tabloids. As a Black male I feel a double whammy has been bestowed upon the judge.

      Thank You!

    • rfmoran profile image
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      Russ Moran 4 years ago from Long Island, New York

      Actually arbitratorts do act as judges and the system is controlled by law, although without many of the formalities of an actual trial such as transcripts.

    • rfmoran profile image
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      Russ Moran 4 years ago from Long Island, New York

      Judge Judy rules!

    • profile image

      mares97 4 years ago

      I DVR Judge Judy every day...it's the best way to unwind after a long day. She is unapologetic and I love it!

    • rfmoran profile image
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      Russ Moran 4 years ago from Long Island, New York

      Thanks for the visit Ib. Having been an arbitrator myself, I can assure you that the law must be followed. But then, a lot of regular judges make up their own law!

    • ib radmasters profile image

      ib radmasters 4 years ago from Southern California

      rfmoran

      In my opinion, the TV judges make the layman legally stupid. The TV judges as you say are arbiters, and not acting as judge. While both arbitration, and a civil case are binding, arbitration is not bound to follow the law.

      Real law and trials are entertaining intrinsically, and don't need to be forced.

      I don't watch reality TV, but in changing channels, I noticed that the Spanish stations have their own version of these TV judges.

      Anyway, nice portfolio of the TV judges here.

    • rfmoran profile image
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      Russ Moran 4 years ago from Long Island, New York

      Thanks for stopping by and your comment. I'm a Judy fan. I love her New Yawk Tawk.

    • rfmoran profile image
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      Russ Moran 4 years ago from Long Island, New York

      dfg retg

    • moonlake profile image

      moonlake 4 years ago from America

      I like Judge Judy but my favorite is Judge Marilyn Milian People's Court. Voted up on your hub.

    • rfmoran profile image
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      Russ Moran 4 years ago from Long Island, New York

      Judge Judy make so much money she feels free to say anything. I love her Judyisms.

    • rfmoran profile image
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      Russ Moran 4 years ago from Long Island, New York

      Yes, amazing - It's the real deal.

    • shiningirisheyes profile image

      Shining Irish Eyes 4 years ago from Upstate, New York

      I have caught a few episodes of the various court room dramas and never knew they were real and legally binding. Interesting read.

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 4 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      I admit I enjoy all of these shows when I have the chance to see them. Of course my favorite is No-nonsense "Judge Judy" She is my Hero! LOL

    • watergeek profile image

      watergeek 4 years ago

      Don't you need some kind of custodian or something that comes in at inopportune moments? I could intercept the secret notes some of these idiots could pass each other or try to throw away when no one sees. I could even fake some just for the fun of it - for audience entertainment.

    • rfmoran profile image
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      Russ Moran 4 years ago from Long Island, New York

      Sounds like an offer they cannot possibly refuse. I'll get the number

    • Kenja profile image

      Ken Taub 4 years ago from Long Island, NY

      I'll be your baillif (and sidekick) for a mere $500,000. You can preside over the bench for a paltry $4.5 million per annum. We'd be funnier, cover the entire political spectrum, and I can insult the dummies without the judge's rep being tarnished a whit. Besides, the producers would save a nice $40 mill a year. Get their number, I'll make the call....

    • rfmoran profile image
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      Russ Moran 4 years ago from Long Island, New York

      I can't wrap my head around $45 Mil to do arbitrations and make a few wisecracks. How about Judge Russ and Judge Ken. We can switch on and off being each other's baillif. Start working on the trailer!

    • Kenja profile image

      Ken Taub 4 years ago from Long Island, NY

      I really think its time to dust off those two screenplays, or otherwise go into show biz. This business-business is for the birds, including advertising. They don't sing 'There's no business like show business' for no reason. I'd be happy to have 1/45th of Judy's income. Impressive...

    • rfmoran profile image
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      Russ Moran 4 years ago from Long Island, New York

      Check out a real courtroom Bill. They are often (unintentionally) funnier.

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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Even though I don't have a tv, I have seen most of these "stars." I have to admit, at times they are entertaining. :) Thanks Russ!