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Cover Story December 7, 2006

  Untitled Document

Order in the Courts!

by lyle e davis

Judge JudySince the original People's Court, which starred the sometimes crotchety Judge Joseph Wapner and debuted in 1981, a variety of ersatz tv courtroom shows have emerged. Heading the list, love her or hate her, is Judge Judy. Close behind her is Judge Joe Brown and a reprise of the People’s Court with Judge Marilyn Milian. Coming up fast is a handsome newcomer, Judge Alex Ferrer and his Judge Alex presentation.

One reason they are so popular is that they are cheap to produce. Without Judge Judy-level talent, court shows can be made for under $200,000 per week, where entertainment newsmagazines can cost five times that. So, who's laying down the law on daytime TV? All shows feature real litigants, real issues, and they deal with binding arbitration with no appeal. They do guarantee collection. (This is important. Anyone who has gone to Small Claims Court knows that winning a judgment is only the first step. You still have to collect on the judgment). Herein, we offer a look at each of these television judges and offer a bit of their background and commentary on their shows.

First, the original, Judge Joe Wapner.
Judge Joe WapnerRarely losing his cool, Judge Wapner addressed litigants with respect, listening patiently as they presented their cases, asking thoughtful questions designed to test their credibility, and retiring to review the facts and law before rendering a reasoned decision. A model of judicial temperament, Judge Wapner’s style of deliberation failed to satisfy the public thirst for combative courtroom drama. No longer presiding over the people’s court, he was later put out to pasture and relegated to ‘Animal Court,’ where he heard disputes relating to the ownership of horses, family pets and other livestock that were paraded before the bench. Even then, Judge Wapner treated the animals better than Judge Judy treats people. Wapner, now retired at age 82, doesn’t care for Judge Judy’s handling of cases.
"She is not portraying a judge as I view a judge should act. She’s discourteous, and she's abrasive. She's not slightly insulting -- she’s insulting in capital letters!"

But, for TV viewers who enjoy seeing bozos loudly castigated, Judge Judy is a reliable treat. Some call her the Simon Cowell of the television courtroom genre.

Judge Judith Sheindlin is best known for her brusque handling of small-claims cases. (Typical ear-piercing interjection from the bench: "Baloney, sir!") But the petite Brooklyn native deserves equal renown for her mastery of the Nielsen ratings:Judge Judy has been the most-watched court show for 452 straight weeks—ever since its 1996 debut. Sheindlin's ratings are so high, in fact, that her salary for the show currently stands at $25 million per year—more than Dr. Phil's and Jerry Springer's salaries combined. Judge Judy’s show premiered in 1996 and remained the only courtroom show on television in the United States since The People's Court ended its first run in 1993, and until that series returned with Ed Koch as judge in 1997. The return of The People's Court, as well as an influx of other judge shows, such as Judge Mathis, Judge Joe Brown, Judge Alex and Judge Hatchett, are largely seen as a result of Judge Judy 's success. The show has been renewed through the 2009/2010 season. Judge Judy is currently in her 11th season which started on September 11, 2006. Petri Hawkins-Byrd, Judge Judy's bailiff, with his absolutely sedate composure, is often a foil to the harsh, severe Judge Judy.

The cases on Judge Judy are real. There are no lawyers present and participants defend themselves, which is standard in a small claims court. The people who appear on her show sign a waiver agreeing that arbitration in her court is final and cannot be pursued elsewhere unless she dismisses the case without prejudice. The award for each judgment is paid by the producers of the show from a fund reserved for each case. The remainder of the fund is split between the parties for a particular case.

At one point, Sheindlin's show was even surpassing Oprah Winfrey, making her the highest- paid woman in television history at the time. The Judge Judy show continues to be the most popular court show, and in the top ten syndicated shows of all genres.

Judge Alex Ferrer, an intimidating presence in his black robe, is a handsome, somewhat charismatic, but no-nonsense judge who tells it like it is. When he took the Judge Alexjob, he not only became the second Hispanic judge on English-language television (Judge Marilyn Milián, also a Cuban American, presides over on The People’s Court) but he’s the only one who was a police officer and holds a lengthy law enforcement background. At 19, he became Miami-Dade County’s youngest cop when he was hired by the city of Coral Gables. At 24, he graduated from the University of Miami with a law degree and left the police force to practice law. At 34, he was elected judge, making him the youngest circuit court judge in the Eleventh Judicial Circuit Court, where he oversaw family and criminal cases. He tapes 10 shows a day over three days, every three weeks, in Houston where the show is based. He then flies back home to Miami, where he lives with his wife and two children, ages 15 and 13 All rise for Ferrer, the newest judge on the TV bench. His show, Judge Alex, premiered this fall in 96 percent of homes nationwide and the freshman TV jurist says he feels right at home in gavel-to-gavel syndication. According to Variety magazine, Judge Alex averages 3 million viewers a week. Ferrer’s rulings are often prefaced by his explanation of the law at hand to his audience—a big difference from his days as an associate administrative judge of the criminal division of Florida’s Eleventh Judicial Circuit in Miami. While he handled cases that ranged from first-degree murder and kidnappings to armed robberies and adoptions, his cases on Judge Alex are tamer—more small claims—yet entertaining. There was the case of the funeral home cosmetologist who sued another woman for not returning $300 she paid for a used car or what she kept calling “a hooptie” in court. The car died after she paid for it. Or the case of a woman who sued her ex-boyfriend over a $1,200 loan. His defense: “I paid her off with sex.” Says Ferrer: “He was convinced he didn’t owe her any money. You see some bizarre cases.'”

Marilyn Milian (born May 1, 1961 in Queens, New York) is a former Florida circuit court judge and is the current host of The People's Court. Milian is the first female judge to preside over the preceding long-running show and the first Hispanic judge to sit on the bench of any English language television court sow. Born to Cuban parents, Milian attended the University of Miami for her undergraduate degree and graduated cum laude from Georgetown Law School. Milian worked as an Assistant State Attorney for the Dade County State Attorney's Office. She was appointed to the position by Janet Reno, who was then the district attorney for the county. In 1999, Florida governor Jeb Bush appointed her to the Miami Circuit Court. In 2001, she replaced Jerry Sheindlin as judge of The People's Court. Milian is married to Judge John Schlesinger, a former Assistant United States Attorney who was recently elected to the same county judgeship in the Miami area that Judge Milian occupied before moving to The People's Court. He and Milian live in Coral Gables, Florida with their freee children, Cristina, Alexandra, and Sofia. (she travels
to New York City every week for three days of filming). Under her brash, no-nonsense watch, the show's ratings have increased 72 percent. She flies to New York every Tuesday evening, hears approximately 20 cases in two days, and flies home Thursday night.

Judge Joe Brown
Judge Joe BrownJudge Joe Brown was born in Washington D. C., but as a child moved to South Central Los Angeles. The neighborhood was tough, and according to Brown, "If you saw the movie, 'Boyz 'n the Hood,' that was the way I grew up." Brown worked hard to get an education, and it paid off. He graduated high school at the top of his class, and paid his way through UCLA by loading trucks and digging ditches. He earned a bachelor's in political science and a law degree at UCLA, and then moved to Memphis in 1974 to work Opportunity Commission. He was the first African-American prosecutor in the City of Memphis; and then became Director of the Memphis Public Defender's Office. In 1978, he went into private practice, until 1990 when he was elected Judge of Division 9 of the State Criminal Courts for Shelby County (which includes Memphis). He spends weekends following up on cases and helping inner-city youth stay out of trouble. Brown presided at the the reopening of the James Earl Ray case which thrust Brown into the national spotlight and caught the attention of Judge Judy's producers. Following that trial, Brown stated unequivocally that the so-called murder rifle was NOT the weapon that killed Dr. Martin Luther King. Brown considers the TV show to be a perfect fit, as he can make a difference in people's lives in front of an audience of millions--who hopefully will follow his lead and change others' lives, too. After getting his show, Brown continued to serve as judge in Shelby County until April 2000, when he resigned to spend more time on the TV show.

Judge Greg Mathis
Judge Greg MathisGreg Mathis has a colorful past. A product of Detroit, he was a street youth and a gang member for a certain time. “In my neighborhood, where I grew up, with tough housing projects, either you were a member of the gang or you were a victim of the gang. The peer pressure was so heavy that you were victimized if you didn't join up with the gang. And I just didn't want to be a victim and have no other choice, quite frankly. But what turned me around was a wake-up call that I think most people get at some point in their life when they're going down the wrong direction. They get a wake-up call. My wake-up call was the illness of my mother. And my last stint in jail, at age 17, she came to me while she was dying, told me she was dying of colon cancer and asked if I would change my life around before she died and asked the judge if he would give me a second chance. And he did. He ordered me to go back to school and get a GED because I had dropped out. And I kept my commitment to my mother, and I kept my commitment to the judge who gave me a second chance, and I think I went a little further than getting my GED as he ordered. It was a long road and I had a lot of obstacles even after I turned around, including the state bar of Michigan withheld my law license for three years based on my sealed juvenile background after passing the bar exam. Mathis went on to become the youngest judge in the state of Michigan, 15 years after leaving the juvenile justice system. During the five years he was on the bench, he was rated in the top five of all judges in the 36th District; there are about thirty judges each year. In 1995, he was elected judge in Detroit, and in 1999, after getting accolades for his unusual story, Mathis was offered a court show, which became Judge Mathis.

Of the “judge shows,” 1. "Judge Judy" -- in front by a mile. 2. "Judge Joe Brown" 3. "Divorce Court" 4. "The Peoples' Court" 5. "Judge Mathis"
In North County you can catch your favorite tv jurist on the following stations and channels:
Judge Mathis 10-11am XETV, Channel 6, Mon-Friday
People’s Court noon-1pm, XETV, Channel 6, Mon-Friday.
Judge Alex - 3pm to 4pm, KUSI-TV, Channel 9, Mon-Friday
Judge Judy - 4-5pm and again from 7-8pm, KUSI-TV, Channel 9, Mon-Friday
Judge Joe Brown, 5pm-6pm, KUSI-TV, Channel 9, Mon-Friday.





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