FEISTY NEW YORKER AT HOME IN NAPLES
Feisty New Yorker calls Naples home, her show is top rated, the people's straight shooter
SHE’S GRUFF AND SCRAPPY, A TELEVISION SUPERSTAR IN THE ROLE OF LADY JUSTICE―WITH A FEW MILLION ADORING FANS.
Judge Judith Sheindlin is also one of ours, a native New Yorker choosing Southwest Florida to make a home. She and her husband have swapped a Gulf condo for a Naples house valued at nearly $9 million, or about two weeks of pay for her 52-day (per year) work schedule, according to public records. Sheindlin is the presiding Small Claims judge on the Emmy Award-winning Judge Judy, which broadcasts daily in Southwest Florida on FOX 4 (WFTX). Flick on the television, and she’s likely tearing into a bad landlord or a weaseling boyfriend. Her findings are real.
Judge Judy, which celebrated 20 years last September, has been the No. 1 show in daytime television since the 1998-99 season and the No. 1 program in first-run syndication for the last six seasons. She was 54 when
Judge Judy premiered after Sheindlin’s time as a Family Court judge in New York. The show in America averages more than 10 million daily viewers. It easily outdistances others such as Dr. Phil and Family Feud, for instance. Additionally, Judge Judy is licensed in some 125 international territories, her agent Gary Rosen says.
Amazingly, her ratings and brand show no easing. Sheindlin, FOX 4’s general manager Charlie Henrich says of the media company’s top-rated show, “is a driving force in our industry. In this world today, we want someone to shoot straight, someone who actually tells how it is. She’s sharp as a whip and doesn’t give an inch. FOX 4 is very proud to partner [with CBS television] to be her hometown station.”
Sheindlin’s charm is her zero tolerance for nonsense. The show uses real litigants and a court audience paid to murmur and react to the proceedings. Her one-liner “Judyisms” cut into foolishness with dismissive “goodbye” or “don’t-be-a-wise-guy” rejoinders to the disagreeable or argumentative. Some litigants try speaking out, pulling the
tough-guy act, but that inevitably goes south; most viewers have a Judge Judy-like character in their life. Her large staff searches Small Claims filings. The goal is litigants’ knowing one another, according to reports, which is the best drama. Former lovers or roommates seem to people the show. In exchange for her judgment, they gain/ lose damages and their 15 minutes of fame.
Sheindlin is balanced by her equally tough bailiff, Petri Hawkins Byrd, who served years ago in her New York courtroom. He is funny in his dismissive way, seemingly disinterested, yet fully protective of his boss―the pair make us smile, as if justice has been truly served. The show is in rare space, as was Oprah Winfrey or the originator of the courtroom genre, Judge Joseph Wapner, says Greg Stetson, program director for WINK-TV, a CBS affiliate in Fort Myers. “Personality seems to drive things,” he says. “It’s like NCIS (drama series)―Mark Harmon is cast and all of a sudden, boom, you have a hit. [ Judge Judy] is a phenomenon, no question.”
Judge Judy is pitched as a New York show, but is filmed in Los Angeles. Sheindlin reportedly earns $47 million a year for her work, enough for her trademark lace collars―and several homes, according to reports. Her appeal is immense, however, with fan clubs and celebrity gossip carpeting social media and the Internet. Cape Coral resident John Mahoney is a huge fan, for instance, watching Judge Judy daily. Although he doesn’t schedule his days around the show, he records episodes to scour after work, he says. “I like watching the different characters that appear on the show,” Mahoney says. “There is never a dull moment,” adding that favorite cases are about claims of property damage. “It’s fun to watch her putting them in their place and yell at them like I would yell at them. … She reminds me of my grandma, who also grew up in New York City. They have so many things in common.”
After nearly 25 years in New York Family Court, Sheindlin retired from the bench in 1996 to start the syndicated program that bears her name. She began her career as a prosecutor in Family Court in 1972. In 1982, then-New York City Mayor Edward Koch appointed her to the bench. In 1986, Sheindlin was appointed the supervising judge in Manhattan Family Court. She heard more than 20,000 cases during her career, Rosen says. She was tapped to teach all newly elected and appointed Family Court judges for almost a decade. In Family Court, she earned a reputation as one of New York’s most effective judges. Sheindlin is credited with pioneering an open court policy, allowing the public and the media to view the Family Court process. The CBS television show 60 Minutes introduced her to the nation in 1993.
“SHE’S SHARP AS A WHIP AND DOESN’T GIVE AN INCH.” —Charlie Henrich, FOX 4 general
manager on Judge Judy Sheindlin