Sometimes The Weakonomist gets behind on posts and needs something that has little to do with money to fill in the gaps… Today is one of those days. Enjoy!

I have the grand fortune of being allowed to listen to the radio at work. The curse is my building, which blocks all but the most powerful signals. I’m left with few choices and thusly end up with Top 40 stations and their abundance of commercials. My favorite commercials are the ones for TV with the judges deciding who should pay for a broken window or which crackhead stole the most money. It got me thinking about these “Judges.” Are they really judges? Are they actors? How does it work? Why do people actually watch them? All very important questions to ponder while I’m at work. I decided to do some research and find out how these judge shows really work.

I based my investigation on the most popular of judge shows: Judge Judy. Judith Sheindlin was, in fact, a judge at one point in her life; serving in family courts. She spent most of her career as a lawyer before the Judge Judy show came along.

Is Judge Judy a judge?
For the purposes of the show she is not. Judge Judy is a character on a TV show. She uses her own name and there is a certain likeness to the actual person. Think of Judge Judy as a personality, like Stephen Colbert on The Colbert Report, or Nancy Grace on her awful show (wait, she might actually be a nut). Judy not paid like a judge (she does much better than a judge). She is also not presiding in a specific district. She lives in NY, CT, and FL, whereas the shows are taped in Los Angeles. Do you know any judges that are flown across the country for small claims court? If you’ve ever seen these court shows, you’ll also note the long lecture the judge often gives one or both of the fools. Judges don’t normally do this, they look at the facts, make a ruling and move on. Judy was first tapped for a show though because the media got wind of her rants in family court. Nowadays though, they are just the character.

Then how can she be a decider?
Contrary to popular belief, judges are not the only deciders in the world. Many business contracts have specifications for an arbiter to settle business disputes. They are not servants of the law, instead they are private folks hired by both parties. You can be a professional arbiter, though I expect it is a difficult industry to get into. Judge Judy is an arbiter.

Is Judy really deciding cases?
Yes, Judy is actually deciding cases. These are actual lawsuits. Potential cases can be submitted to the show for review, however the producers of the show also scan court filings for random cases that might be entertaining. Both parties agree that Judy will decide who wins the case or if it should be thrown out. Judy also decides exactly what the reward should be.

Why would anyone go on the show to be humiliated?
This is America my friends. We do anything to get on TV and we do anything for a few extra bucks in our pockets. These rednecks, deadbeats, and losers are paid $100 + $35 a day (2-3 days) for appearing on the show. This also gets you a free trip to Los Angeles. The kicker here is that Judge Judy’s show actually pays any award. So if the dependent is ordered to pay $3000 to fix a car then Judy’s show actually pays it. A majority of cases are thrown out however.

Here are other some other interesting facts about Judge Judy:

  • The people in the courtroom are hired extras. They are even paid to have small conversations.
  • The bailiff is not a bailiff, he’s a security guard.
  • Judy is flown on a private jet every other week to LA to tape shows.
  • Someone has actually devoted a website to bashing Judge Judy
  • Judge Judy was nominated for a Daytime Emmy Award.
  • Judge Judy has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Weakonomics Lesson: Keep your small claims lawsuits in the courtroom. If you’re going to use an arbiter, don’t use one that pays YOU to show up.

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categories: personal, Uncategorized