Order in the Court! How Real Are T.V. Judges?

June 24, 2014

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Sam Howzit/Wikimedia

Judge Wapner of The People’s Court was the first to dispense justice from the bench on T.V. Many have followed in his footsteps; Judge Judy, Judge Mathis, Judge Joe Brown, etc. They seem to hand out justice, but looks can be deceiving.

Court T.V. shows are nothing but a set that looks like a court. Sorry to burst your bubble, but they’re not a court at all. The judges put themselves in black robes, and in the case of Judge Judy, that little white doily. They were all real court judges in some capacity before, but they are merely wearing costumes at this point because these judges have no real judging power.

In the beginning of the show there is always a statement to the effect of, “the parties have agreed to have their disputes settled here.” The participants must agree to dismiss their court cases (from small claims court) and submit the case to binding arbitration. That’s what these “judges” are now, arbitrators (even though they had been a real judge in the past). An arbitrator is an independent person officially appointed to settle a dispute. The parties sign a contract to agree to the arbitrator’s decision, but here is the kicker in these court shows—the defendant never really loses, nor do they ever have to pay. The shows pay the participants an appearance fee, fly them out to the filming, and put them up in a hotel.

Another funny aspect (and entirely true as I heard from someone on one of these shows) is that the show will pay for a person to get a new set of teeth, or complete dental work. No one wants to see bad chompers. Before appearing, the litigants are coached on how they should prepare and act, even how they should dress. The producers want good T.V. and not some boring affair, so the participants are revved up before the case. If the “judge” awards the decision to the plaintiff, the show pays them the reward. If the defendant prevails, then the plaintiff gets nothing. Both litigants get an appearance fee from the show. The defendant actually comes out ahead because they get an appearance fee and only have to defend their good name, if they have one.

Judge Judy makes $45 million a year being a fake judge, so not a bad gig. She never came close to that as a real judge. So the next time you see these shows, realize what you’re watching is similar to attending an ad-libbed play.

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About the author 

Daniel Ganninger - The writer, editor, and chief lackey of Knowledge Stew, the author of the Knowledge Stew line of great trivia books, and editor of Fact World and the Knowledge Stew sister site on Medium. I hope you find things here to annoy those around you with your new found knowledge.

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