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The Column

Here Comes the Judge Show
1/5/03

If this writer thing doesn’t work out, I’m going to try out for one of those judge shows. I’d be great at ignoring the American legal process and mouthing off to the destitute. The only reason I don’t have a judge show already is because I’m not sassy, ethnic, or able to constantly remind people of how I made it despite my unsavory background.

All these shows have slightly different hooks, but the formula remains constant. One person is suing another in a very open and shut case. Sometimes it’s the prosecution who should obviously win. “Your honor, he stabbed me seven times and refused to pay the medical bill, or for the knife resharpening.” Sometimes, the defendant has a better case. “Your honor, I know I took his parking space, but I don’t see why that makes me obligated to buy him a new car.” But in either case, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist (or someone with a law background) to know who is right and who is wrong. It does, apparently, take a law background to say, “when my hand goes up, your mouth goes shut.”

These programs are a far cry from the old Divorce Court where the drama was created with what the prosecution and the defense said to each other, not with what the judges said to them. The judge was there to listen (gasp!) and render a verdict accordingly, and that was it. And it didn’t matter where he or she grew up.

But it matters for Judge Joe Brown, who reminds us that he grew up in the streets at every opportunity. Yes, it’s wonderful that he escaped a bad neighborhood and went on to the very respectable career of television arbitrator, but he doesn’t need to repeat that every time they go to commercial. “And now, a word from our sponsor. Who I first met during my days in the streets.”

But at least Brown is fair, unlike the Judy school of judging, which teaches you to pass judgment before hearing a case. On multiple occasions, I’ve heard Judge Judy tell people that they should shut up because she didn’t like the way they looked. And I’ve only watched the show twice.

The now cancelled Judge Mills Lane was one of the only judge shows to feature a celebrity judge, until Judge Mills Lane stopped being a show and Mills Lane stopped being a celebrity. You probably know Lane as the boxing ref that DQed Mike Tyson for biting Evander Holyfield’s ear, and went on to star in the less violent Celebrity Deathmatch. It’s not his boxing background that gets me - I just don’t want my judge to have had a role on “Buzz Lightyear of Star Command,” even if it’s a cameo.

The syndicated Judge Hatchett, distributed by Sony Pictures Television, is younger and more attractive than Judge Judy, but really, who isn’t? And Sony wants so much for her to be taken seriously that the press photo of her features an open robe and a skirt that stops well above the knee. “I think this season we’ll try to feature more cases that focus on the problems of domestic violence. Now show a little leg.”

And the litigants are no better. These are people who should settle their differences without the aid of cue cards, but have been raised by judge shows and thus learned that no one ever really has to take responsibility for anything. Even if you lose, the show pays the settlement. Now that’s standing up and taking responsibility for your actions, huh?

There was a case recently where a wasted guy threw a keg off a third story balcony. Of course the keg hit a car, but the thrower refused to pay for the damages. His defense? He didn’t check for cars before the throw, so he obviously didn’t hit the thing on purpose. But there’s no legal precedent establishing a “my bad” rule; the defense was an obviously poor excuse made up simply to satisfy the idea of a defense. This way, the keg-thrower may have lost the case, but he lost it on TV and thus had someone else pay the bill. In the process, the world got to see just how dumb he was. $800 is now the going rate for dignity.

I really think I’d make a good TV judge, and not just because I already own a black robe (it’s terrycloth, but it’s still black). If they just gave me the chance, I’d render equal, swift, and certain verdicts, and carry out justice wherever it was needed. I’d stand up for the poor and the downtrodden, spread the message of fair play and responsibility, and be a pillar of my community.

And after a long half hour of work, I’d retire to my judge’s chamber, and read some law books under the cool glow of my makeup mirror with all the light bulbs around it.

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