Inside the Life of Judge Judy Sheindlin
Whether you've been an avid fan of her show since the beginning or have only heard her name in passing, chances are you definitely know the great Judge Judy. Her television program has broken world records, and today she is one of the most widely-recognized television figures.
But behind her grand television persona, what's she really like? Come along for a deep dive into the secret life of Judge Judy.
What Is She Famous for, Again?
In case you missed it, Judge Judy is the star and presiding judge in the courtroom television show Judge Judy. Viewers enjoy the show in part thanks to Judy's sharp wit, brusque dealings with those in the wrong and zero-tolerance policy for anyone who tries to act dumb.
The show's been running since 1996 and currently holds the world record for the longest continually-running daytime courtroom television show. In 2009, the number of Judge Judy viewers even surpassed those of The Oprah Winfrey Show, cementing its place as daytime television royalty.
Judge Judy has been part of television for so long, it's hard to imagine that she could ever not be part of it.Thanks to a combination of stage lighting, make-up and her stubborn refusal to age, Judy looks as though she could live forever. She's actually a lot older than she looks, though.
Judge Judy was born on October 21st, 1942, making her well past the age where she could receive social security. While she probably still has plenty of life left in her, you have to wonder how much longer can she keep doing her television show.
Classmates of Greatness
From an early age, Judy was surrounded by people who were destined to take their lives to wondrous heights. As a teenager, she attended James Madison High School in Brooklyn, which produced some of the greatest and well-known names of our time.
Among her fellow alumna were a few people you might have heard of: Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Bernie Sanders and Chuck Schumer, to name a few. There was certainly no shortage of aspirational characters in her yearbook, and Judy was not one to be left behind when it came to making a name for herself.
Early Family Life
If her smile always seems perfect, that might be because one of her parents was a dentist; there was certainly no avoiding flossing in her household. While Judy’s parents weren't famous or rich, she had wonderfully high opinions of them and was proud to call them hers.
According to some sources, Judy described her mother as a "meat and potatoes kind of gal" and her father as "the greatest thing since sliced bread". Murray and Ethel Blum had humble beginnings, but they managed to raise a daughter destined for stardom.
Following her graduation from high school, Judy went on to major in government at American University in Washington D.C. A Bachelor of Arts wasn't enough for her, though. Immediately after her undergraduate career was over, she jumped straight into law school.
There weren't many other women in law school at the time. Being surrounded by men wasn't easy, but Judy wasn't about to let that stop her. Judy attended New York Law School, where she received her Juris Doctor degree in 1965.
First Job — and First Resignation
A lot of people struggle to find jobs in their fields after graduation, but Judy didn't have such a problem. She was offered a position as a corporate lawyer for a cosmetics brand the same year she graduated from law school. However, she didn't stay there very long.
Within a couple of years, she decided she didn't like her job as much as she’d expected. She much preferred family life, so she quit her job to focus on raising her two children instead. She was happier there and enjoyed spending time with her kids.
Getting Back in the Game
Once her children were a little older, Judy decided she could use a change of pace. Conveniently for her, there was a job opening in New York that suited her qualifications as well as her interests: a prosecutor in the family courts.
As a prosecutor in New York, Judy dealt primarily with cases involving domestic violence, child abuse and juvenile crime. It was a perfect fit. She was able to combine her legal training with her desire to help people who needed an advocate, especially children and other individuals who had no one else to fight for them.
The First Judge Judy
Judy didn't stay in her career as a lawyer very long. In 1982, the mayor of New York appointed her a criminal court judge, thanks in part to her no-nonsense attitude and strict dealings with the people involved in her cases. She quickly earned a reputation as a tough judge and was particularly fast-acting, making quick decisions where others might deliberate for some time.
Within four years, she was appointed as a supervising judge in Manhattan's family courts, and her reputation for being tough and sharp-witted continued to grow.
Her new work didn't only help build her career as a judge; it also helped her find romance again. Her first marriage fell apart in 1976, right before she jumped back into the legal game. After she restarted her legal career, she bumped into a defense attorney named Jerry Scheindlin at a bar.
Bonding over their shared love of justice and the law, they hit it off right away. Soon they were married, and Judy and Jerry have been together ever since. Talk about a power couple for the ages.
First Taste of Fame
Judy's reputation grew larger and larger as the years passed. She even became the subject of a Los Angeles Times article about her dedication to justice and the common good. Following that, she appeared on a 60 Minutes segment that launched her profile to the national level.
After gaining so much attention, she was asked to write a book — so she did. Don't Pee on My Leg and Tell Me It's Raining was published in 1996. That same year, she retired from her position as a family court judge after hearing more than 20,000 cases.
At First You Don’t Succeed
Judge Judy wasn't the first courtroom television series, of course. One particularly popular show, The People's Court, had been airing for some time before she ever got started. In 1993, however, the show released its presiding judge, Joseph Wapner.
Judy reportedly called up the program, mostly as a joke and told them that if Wapner no longer wanted to do the show, she would be happy to take over. The receptionist who answered her call dismissed her and hung up, and that was the last of it. For a few years, anyway.
A New Career
In 1995, former producers of The People's Court finally reached out to Judy, offering her a new courtroom television show. At first, she said no, but in 1996, she accepted the offer and agreed to participate in the new production.
Her bailiff throughout her entire judicial career, Petri Hawkins-Byrd, sent her a congratulatory letter and offered to be her bailiff once again for her new career. She accepted, and he's been the show's bailiff ever since its first season despite producers' attempts to bring new people to the role.
When it first aired, Judge Judy didn't appear too promising. The first episodes appeared in September of 1996, and by October, ratings were at a meager 1.5. Producers were disappointed, and some even questioned whether the show would survive long enough to get its ratings up.
Luckily for Judy and the producers, however, the ratings increased by the end of the first season to around 2.1, and they only went up from there. Its peak rating during the 1999-2000 season was a whopping 9.3.
What Does She Do?
For anyone who hasn't seen the show, Judge Judy adjudicates civil trials — non-criminal cases — between people who have brought lawsuits against each other. These people could be neighbors, roommates, exes or pretty much anyone who has a bone to pick with someone else.
Cases usually center around things like broken promises, property disputes between former couples, minor property damage (like one neighbor running over another's favorite flower bush) or similar small-scale issues. There isn't a jury to be seen in the show — Judge Judy makes all decisions regarding the plaintiffs' fates.
Why Do People Like It so Much?
People are fans of the show for a multitude of reasons, but Judge Judy herself is certainly one of the biggest. Similar shows have been attempted, but no other judges can quite recreate her feisty nature and attitude when dealing with plaintiffs who clearly don't have a leg to stand on.
People also appreciate how justice is served quickly, authoritatively and without all the hassle and time found in more normal courtrooms. The 'bad guys' get what's coming to them, leading to a cathartic viewer experience.
A Few Extra Audience Members
If you've seen the show, then you know there's always a good audience in attendance. They’re very well-behaved too — they pay attention, avoid talk while Judy or the plaintiffs are speaking and fall silent immediately when the bailiff calls the room into order.
That's because they're paid. The audience members in the show aren't just random people there to watch; they're paid extras trying to kickstart a career in show business and provided by acting agencies. Fans have tried to get in to watch the show live, but they only get in by talking to the production team and being very, very lucky.
She Works Five Days a Month
For all the talk of whether or not she'll retire soon, it seems Judy barely works at all anyway. The filming schedule for Judge Judy is pretty scarce, with episodes being filmed approximately three days a week every other week. Granted, those days are fairly extensive, with all the month's episodes being filmed during those productions.
However, as Judy herself admitted in an interview, she works approximately five to six days per month. Not bad for someone still pursuing a full-time television career — and, we might add, a hefty salary to boot. Speaking of which ...
She's Paid a Ridiculous Amount
After starring as a nationally renowned judge in a television series for over 20 years, you might assume Judge Judy takes home a pretty hefty paycheck. You would, of course, be right. Her annual salary in 2005 was around $15 million.
But don't worry, the judge didn't have to scrape by on that for too long. More recently, her salary was increased to approximately $45 million per year, and that's not even counting the payments she receives from other media appearances or book payouts.
Judy isn't only involved in television. Alongside her stepdaughter Nicole, she helps run a program called Her Honor Mentoring designed to help women reach their full potential. The program emphasizes the importance of higher education and helps women learn practical skills that will enable them to pursue their dreams.
Her Honor Mentoring aims to strengthen women and help them find a meaningful profession. Judy might have a reputation of being harsh and uncaring, but she seems to have a softer side that comes out from time to time — at least away from the cameras.
Home Is Where the Heart Is
Judy may have New York roots, but she and her husband have homes all over the country. They own houses in Florida, Wyoming, Connecticut and New York. For a while, Judy was actually commuting to Los Angeles for three days every other week, but eventually she bought a home there as well.
More recently, she and her husband announced that they purchased a home in Rhode Island as well — a house once owned by Dorrance Hill Hamilton.
Lawsuit Over Dishware
Judy hasn't been involved in too many lawsuits herself. (And as a presiding judge, that's probably a good quality to have). However, in 2013, the former wife of Judge Judy's producer, Randy Douthit, sued her for conspiring with Douthit to deprive her of her valuables.
Allegedly, Judy paid Douthit for a set of china owned by his former wife, Patrice Jones, without Jones' knowledge. The dispute was settled outside of court when Judy returned the dishware to Douthit, and Douthit returned it to Jones.
Spirit of Debate
Outside of television and media, Judy is invested in strengthening public discourse. In 2017, she donated a sum of money to the University of Southern California to fund a space for the express purpose of public debate.
Judy says that encouraging debate between well-meaning people with opposite views is a critical part of education and should be encouraged at all collegiate institutions. A professor at USC agreed, issuing a statement that schools across the country have a responsibility to encourage their students to participate in civil discourse.
Presiding over so many court cases in such short periods of time means Judy needs to keep her mind as sharp as a tack. There are plenty of ways to do this, of course — from Sudoku puzzles to apps that claim to train your brain — but Judy, unsurprisingly, prefers her own method: gin rummy.
She's notorious for playing the game on set, whether between cases or just on breaks. Her grandmother taught her to play,though she never let Judy win. However, Judy joked that she in turn never let her grandchildren win, either.
All's Fair in Love and Law
The attitude and spark that Judy demonstrates on her show aren’t an act, as Judy has pointed out in interviews on multiple occasions. She's just as sharp and brutally honest in real life as she is on the air. That goes for all areas of her life, romance included.
Judy took the initiative to propose to her second husband, Jerry Sheindlin. In fact, she's the one who got their relationship started in the first place. Instead of waiting around for a man who was dragging his feet, she went ahead and got the ball rolling herself.
While the show might seem like something to have on in the background while doing dishes or between running errands, Judy hopes that viewers are able to find a larger message in her show. It's not all about the yelling and her constant witticisms.
According to one interview, Judy hopes that viewers take home the idea that you should take responsibility for your actions and above all try to do the right thing. That's a pretty big statement for some daytime television show, but with so many viewers every day, perhaps it really has made a difference for someone.
The Most Important Meal of the Day
Being the highest-paid woman on television, Judy can afford to eat pretty much anything she wants for her first meal of the day. So what's her top pick? Caviar? Croissants by her local French baker? Not even close. Her favorite breakfast food is an Egg McMuffin.
Yes, you read that right. According to an interview, it was a habit she picked up while working as a family court judge in Manhattan. Even today, she says that an Egg McMuffin is still her favorite thing to eat for breakfast. Maybe we should give it some consideration.
The Beginning of the Lace Collar
If you've ever seen the show or even just a picture of Judge Judy while she's wearing her judge's robes, you may have noticed she's wearing a lace collar. It's her signature look. But why does she wear it?
As Judy once purportedly explained to her husband, male judges wore collared shirts and colorful ties for a bit of color to contrast their solid black robes. Judy bought a lace collar to serve the same purpose as well as to throw lawyers off their stride. Who would think a lady in a lace collar would be dangerous, after all?
Preparation Is Key
While it may seem like she approaches all of her cases for the first time while the cameras are rolling, that actually isn't the case. After selecting the cases, producers send her some information regarding the cases prior to her arrival in LA.
She takes time to familiarize herself with the backgrounds of the cases but doesn't overdo it on the prep work. When the plaintiffs come before her, the cases are still relatively new. However, she's done enough research beforehand to help her sort through any attempted subterfuge.
Negotiations Fit for a Star
Judge Judy is loud, brash and she doesn't care what people think of her. You might expect her salary negotiations to be dramatic affairs because of that, but they’re actually pretty quiet — although Judy is just as straightforward as you’d expect.
Rumor has it that whenever her contract is close to running up, she has dinner with the CBS president to discuss her renewal as well as to negotiate a new salary. There isn't actually much discussion, though. Judy simply slides him a note with her desired salary written on it.
In Judy We Trust
Years and years of being the premier legal authority in many viewers’ lives is bound to make an impact — and it has. Judy fans trust her with the decisions she makes and generally believe her to be a fair and impartial judge.
According to one poll, viewers of Judge Judy trust her more on average than the United States Supreme Court. That's a pretty amazing level of faith, and while it should be taken with a grain of salt, it’s nonetheless a a sign of Judy’s enduring talent and popularity.