What to know about 'Judy Justice,' and why Judy Sheindlin switched courtrooms from 'Judge Judy'
During a mid-morning interview in May, Judy Sheindlin, known for brashly extinguishing courtroom nonsense on "Judge Judy," seems almost tranquil. She calmly relays she's "feeling fine," taking note of the blue sky and green trees visible from her Connecticut home.
Sheindlin, 78, says she's noticed a dip in energy since wrapping "Judge Judy" in April after 25 seasons. The top-rated syndicated court show, which debuted in 1996, allows real people to work through small-claim discrepancies.
"I think I'm in more of an energetic mode when I'm working, and right now, I'm sort of in-between jobs," Sheindlin says with a laugh. Her new program, "Judy Justice," for Amazon is streaming on its free IMDb TV service as of Nov. 1. Sheindlin says "we may try a different color" (she did: maroon) but kept other format switches to herself as "that would take away the surprise." (Among changes: A new court clerk – her granddaughter – and a new bailiff.)
Sheindlin was approached about taking her work to the small screen in the '90s, following a "60 Minutes" profile about her time in family court aired in 1993, and her book "Don't Pee on My Leg and Tell Me It's Raining" published in 1996.
Over 25 years as "Judge Judy", she says her zeal for the job didn't fade. "I was as enthusiastic and rigorous in the last case that I taped as I was at the beginning," she says. On her last day, she wasn't sad. She reflected on her tenure as "a job well done" and looked ahead to her new show.
"I think that one of the reasons why I wasn't teary is because I wasn't going into a vast unknown," she says. "I wasn't going to do a cooking show. I was gonna be doing exactly what I was doing, exactly what I do, but in a different format."
We sat down with the justice to speak about her time on "Judge Judy," her new program and her courtroom persona. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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Question: What do you remember about the "Judge Judy" pilot?
Judy Sheindlin: I remember that somebody then was trying to fit me into a sort of cookie-cutter (mold). They had seen the "60 minutes," and they thought the approach that they saw in "60 minutes" could be almost a caricature, and I'm not a caricature of that person, I am that person. So the cases that they brought to me to do the pilot were not genuine, and I couldn't react to things that weren't genuine. Because when I'm trying to figure out the truth of a case, and there really is no truth, I can't work. So they took little snippets of the pilot and created a sizzle reel, along with "60 Minutes" tape and sold that.
Q: Is the "Judge Judy" persona who you are outside of the courtroom?
Sheindlin: Sometimes I'm that person, sometimes I'm a bit of a chameleon. I really can change with my surroundings, but if I have to come back to the "Judge Judy," persona I find it very quickly.
Q: When does it come out?
Sheindlin: I can slip into it when somebody is peeing on my leg and telling me that it's raining. Like a mechanic, or somebody who wants to show me something that I don't need, or somebody trying to give me misinformation, or to obfuscate the truth because that's the way they do business, whatever business that is. And it's usually the business where women aren't supposed to have any expertise at all.
Q: Why do you think your show was so popular?
Sheindlin: I think that there are enough people that still find comfort in good guys coming out on top in a judicial dispute. I think that my message has been the same for 25 years, in this court, and 25 years in family court: You have to take personal responsibility for what you do, and what you make of yourself, and the choices that you make. And you may make mistakes, everybody makes mistakes – they're human. But what you're not supposed to do is cover up for those mistakes and blame somebody else.
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Q: When figuring out the number you wanted for your salary, what did you take into account? (Forbes reports that beginning in 2012, Sheindlin's "Judge Judy" gig has paid her an annual salary of $47 million, before taxes.)
Sheindlin: After years – because you can't do that right away – I figured what the program was earning the company, and I thought, "What would be a fair proportion of that for me?"
Q: When it comes to knowing your worth and asking for it, were you ever nervous?
Sheindlin: I think I was nervous and excited. I was excited because in any job where you're working and you feel that your contribution to the company exceeds your compensation, that gives you a negative feeling. It was certainly well-publicized what my program was garnering for the company – from both license fees and advertising – and I thought that I should be more of a partner in that since I provided that resource.
Q: Admittedly, this is the tackiest of my salary questions, but I think it's common to fantasize about what one would do with a large payday. What's your favorite thing to indulge in?
Sheindlin: It changes over years. At the beginning, especially coming from a civil service payday, which was not bad, but just a regular payday, when you had so much more money, you went and you bought things for yourself and for your family. Now two things happen: Since I can really buy what I want, I find that I don't want that much. I can go into a store and say, "That's nice, but do I really need it?" My closet is full of things that are perfectly fine, that may be five years old, but they still do the trick.
It's not just that you want less, but as you get older, my grandmother used to say, "A mink coat looks better on a 30-year-old than it does on a 60-year-old, but a 30-year-old can't afford it." And I think part of that is true. You can buy a new necklace, but a woman's physical characteristics change over the years. So the necklace may be just as beautiful, but your neck isn't as beautiful as it was when you were 30 (laughs).
Q: What can you tell me about your new program and its format?
Sheindlin: I can't tell you because that has to be somewhat of a surprise. It will be different, and it will still have the comfort of the truth-finding. I'm still the only judge, but it will be different.
I'm looking forward to starting a new career. I started a new career at 52 and starting a new career at 78 should tell all those people that feel as if, "I don't really want to stop working, I like working" that you shouldn't stop until you're tired of working.
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