Judge Judy is not a member of the U.S. Supreme Court. According to a 2016 poll, 10% of college graduates sadly believe that Judith Sheindlin (“Judge Judy”) serves as a justice on the Court, although there may be some reason to doubt the results of this poll.
In fact, Judith Sheindlin does not currently serve as a judge on any court. (She formerly served as a supervising New York State family court trial judge). Her highly-rated television show depicts a form of alternate dispute resolution, called binding arbitration. Judge Judy acts as an arbitrator in a TV-studio. Although the studio looks like a real courtroom, it is not part of any federal, state, or local judicial district/circuit. Since Judge Judy presides over a TV studio set instead of an actual courtroom, she is generally not bounded by the rules of evidence, rules of civil procedure, case law, or professional conduct codes.
As no one is bound by the numerous rules of procedure that govern an actual trial, the TV show litigants and arbitrators behave in a manner that is far more exaggerated than in actual trial. The TV proceedings bear little resemblance to any hearing before an actual judge. While yelling, screaming, mockery, and shouting are commonplace on TV court shows, this behavior is uncommon and highly discouraged in any actual courtroom. In most instances, judges treat the litigants (and their lawyers) with respect and dignity.
Judge Judy and other reality-court shows generally depict an actual dispute where there was a previously filed lawsuit in a court of law. In return for appearing on the television show each litigant agrees to the arbitrator’s decision. The TV show’s decision, therefore, is final and not appealable. Any pending lawsuit in court is then dismissed with prejudice. If any judgment is awarded by the arbitrator it is paid by the television show’s coffers and not by the defendant. The defendant won’t have to pay the judgment or risk having an adverse action on his or her credit report. In fact,each litigant agrees in advance to follow the arbitrator’s decision. The courtroom television show offers the plaintiff a faster route to payment as the show pays the arbitrator’s award. Instead of needing to pursue a judgment debtor for months or years, the plaintiff quickly receives a check from the show. Actual litigation is a far more plodding, slow, document-intensive, and onerous endeavor than the drama depicted on courtroom TV shows.
While the television show pays the arbitrator’s award on behalf of the defendant to the plaintiff quickly, it does so at the expense of the litigants. Dramatized interplay among the arbitrator, plaintiff, and defendant is itself the TV show’s goal.
Although Judith Sheindlin does not preside over an actual court, she reportedly makes 47 million dollars per year. This figure dwarfs Neil Gorsuch’s salary, the newly-minted Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, who is set to make $251,800.
In recent years the percentage of Virginia personal injury cases that are settled without a trial has increased dramatically. At Burnett & Williams, before taking a case to court, we will often attempt to reach a settlement through a mediation process that includes retired judges. It saves time and money for the client, and unlike Judge Judy’s show, it usually keeps the whole process private.