Judith Susan "Judy" Sheindlin (née Blum; born October 21, 1942), also known as Judge Judy, is an American lawyer, former judge, television personality, producer, and author. Since 1996, Sheindlin has presided over her own successful Daytime Emmy Award winning reality courtroom series, Judge Judy.
Sheindlin passed the New York bar examination in 1965 and became a prosecutor in the family court system. In 1982 Mayor Ed Koch appointed her as a judge, first in criminal court, then later as Manhattan's supervising family court judge in 1986.
It was reported in mid-2012 that Sheindlin was the highest paid television personality, making $123,000 per episode of Judge Judy, or $45 million annually for the 52 days per year that she tapes her show. In October 2013 it was reported that Sheindlin was still the highest paid TV star, earning $47 million per year for Judge Judy.
Sheindlin began presiding on Judge Judy in national syndication on September 16, 1996. She is the longest serving judge or arbitrator in courtroom-themed programming history, a distinction that earned Sheindlin a place in the Guinness World Records.
Early life and education
Sheindlin was born Judith Susan Blum in the Brooklyn borough of New York City to Jewish parents, Murray Blum, a dentist, and the former Ethel Silverman. Her paternal grandfather, Jacob Blum, immigrated from Ukraine, while her paternal grandmother, Lena Mininberg, came from Russia. She described her father as "the greatest thing since sliced bread" and her mother as "a meat and potatoes kind of gal."
Sheindlin attended James Madison High School in Brooklyn before going on to American University in Washington, D.C., where she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree, majoring in government. She finished her law school education at New York Law School, where she earned her Juris Doctor in 1965.
Sheindlin passed the New York bar exam in 1965, the same year as her graduation, and was hired as a corporate lawyer for a cosmetics firm. Within two years she became dissatisfied with her job and left to raise her two children. She was soon made aware of a position in the New York court system as a prosecutor in the family courts. In her role as a lawyer, Sheindlin prosecuted child abuse cases, domestic violence and juvenile crime.
By 1982, Sheindlin's no-nonsense attitude inspired New York Mayor Ed Koch to appoint her as a criminal court judge. Four years later, she was promoted to supervising judge in the family court's Manhattan division. She earned a reputation as a "tough" judge (though she has disagreed with the labels "tough" and "harsh"), known for her fast decision-making and acerbic wit.
In February 1993, Sheindlin's outspoken reputation made her the subject of a Los Angeles Times article, profiling her as a woman determined to make the court system work for the common good. She subsequently was featured in a segment on CBS's 60 Minutes, bringing her national recognition. This led to her first book, Don't Pee on My Leg and Tell Me It's Raining, published in 1996. She retired as a family court judge that same year after hearing over 20,000 cases. After her retirement, Sheindlin continued to receive increasing amounts of public attention.
TV court show: Judge Judy
After the 60 Minutes special on her family court career in 1993 and authoring her first book shortly thereafter (Don't Pee on My Leg and Tell Me It's Raining), Sheindlin was approached about starring in a new reality courtroom series, featuring "real cases with real rulings." She accepted the offer.
Sheindlin's ongoing syndicated court show, Judge Judy, debuted on September 16, 1996, and began celebrating its 20th anniversary on Monday, September 14, 2015. Sheindlin has stated that her show's primary goal is to motivate the public to do the right thing, and to show that each individual must take responsibility for his or her own actions.
Ratings and reception
Judge Judy has maintained preeminence within its genre. Since its debut, it has remained the No. 1 rated court show and regularly draws approximately 9 to 10 million viewers daily. During the 2009–10 television season, Judge Judy became the first TV series in nearly a decade to attract more daytime viewers than The Oprah Winfrey Show. Since then, it has been the highest rated show in all of daytime television.
On March 2, 2015, CBS Television Distribution and Judge Sheindlin extended their contract for another three seasons, adding to her current contract (which was set to expire after the 2016–17 season), meaning it will be on the air until at least the 2019–20 season. Judge Judy is especially popular among female viewers between the ages of 25 and 54.
Author Brendan I. Koerner has commented on the popularity of Judge Judy:
Court-show viewers don't seem to want moral conundrums or technical wrinkles. They love Sheindlin's show because she offers them a fantasy of how they'd like the justice system to operate—swiftly, and without procedural mishaps or uppity lawyers. They get to see wrongdoers publicly humiliated by a strong authority figure. There is no uncertainty after Sheindlin renders her verdict and bounds off the bench, and there certainly are no lengthy appeals.
The program has integrated itself into American pop culture. In 2003, VH1 named Sheindlin one of the "200 Greatest Pop Culture Icons." References to Sheindlin—typically as "Judge Judy", though often satirical—have appeared in multitudes of television programs and other media, including ABC's Jimmy Kimmel Live!; FOX's The Simpsons as Judge Constance Harm (voiced by Jane Kaczmarek); NBC's Will & Grace; UPN/The CW's America's Next Top Model; NBC's The Weakest Link; ABC's The Practice and tapings of the Academy Awards; the book America: A Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction by Jon Stewart; a skit by Vicki Lawrence portraying Thelma Harper/Mama on "Betty White's 2nd Annual 90th Birthday" celebration, drag queen Bianca Del Rio portraying Judge Judy on RuPaul's Drag Race, etc.
To celebrate the premiere of the show's 18th season back in 2013, a flash mob consisting of scores of people dressed in judge's robes took to the streets and created a Judge Judy music video. In addition, Sheindlin has been parodied on Saturday Night Live, The Simpsons, The Amanda Show, etc.
Awards and honors
Judge Judy has earned Sheindlin numerous awards and honors, including a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in February 2006; induction into Broadcasting & Cable's Hall of Fame in October 2012; being awarded vice presidency of the UCD Law Society in April 2013; being presented with the Gracie Allen Tribute Award from the Alliance for Women in Media; being awarded the Mary Pickford Award by the Hollywood Chamber Community Foundation at the 2014 Heroes of Hollywood; etc.
One award Sheindlin had difficulty winning was a Daytime Emmy Award. By 2011, her program had been nominated 14 consecutive years without winning. In mid-2012, an article from the New York Post reported that Judge Judy was snubbed by the award show by not even being nominated that year despite being the highest-rated court show. In an interview with Entertainment Tonight on May 3, 2013, Sheindlin said, "I have my walls full of Daytime Emmy Award nominations." When ET's interviewer asked Sheindlin if she thought she would ever win the award, she replied:
I don't know. You know, somehow it would sort of break the spell. The show has been such a tremendous success that I'm almost afraid to think about winning—because so many of those shows that did win are no longer with us. So I say to myself 'you want the Emmy or you want a job? (laughing) Which one do you want?'
On June 14, 2013, Judge Judy won its first Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Legal/Courtroom Program, having received its 15th nomination. Sheindlin's status as longest serving judge or arbitrator in courtroom-themed programming history rewarded her a place in the prestigious Guinness World Records on September 14, 2015, as part of her court show's 20th anniversary celebration.
In 2005, Sheindlin's salary was US$15 million per year. Her net worth at the beginning of 2007 was $95 million, and she ranked #13 on the Forbes top 20 richest women in entertainment. In July 2010 when Sheindlin's contract was renewed, her salary increased to $45 million per year. It was later reported in October 2013 that Sheindlin is the highest-paid TV star, earning $47 million per year for Judge Judy, which translates into just over $900,000 per workday (she works 52 days per year).
Longevity and retirement plans
The only court shows that outnumber Judge Judy's seasons are The People's Court and Divorce Court—both of which have suffered cancellation(s) and gone through multiple judges or arbitrators, whereas Judge Judy has not. Thus, Judge Judy boasts the longest individual production life of any court show. Moreover, Sheindlin is the longest serving judge or arbitrator in courtroom-themed programming history—a distinction that rewarded Sheindlin a place in the Guinness World Records in September 2015 as part of the program's 20th anniversary season.
When asked why her court show has so much longevity while most other court shows do not, in the May 3, 2013, Entertainment Tonight interview, Sheindlin answered:
I think people are comfortable knowing my perspective—because I think if you try as a judge/television personality to do this kind of job and keep your perspectives, your personal perspectives, a secret, you're not being honest. And I think that the American viewing audience can tell when somebody's not being honest—when somebody's peeing on their leg and telling them it's raining. I think part of the reason I was selected to do this job was because I don't filter myself very well. But I was never a great filter of myself even when I sat on the bench in New York. Now sometimes that got you into a little bit of hot water; here they seem to like it. Fortunately for me, I don't have to act. This is it. And if you annoy me, or if you lie to me, or if I feel as if you're trying to obfuscate the truth, you're going to get on my bad side. And that's a side that you don't want to be on.
On March 30, 2011, Sheindlin was admitted to the hospital after she fainted on the set of her show while handling a case. She was released the next day, and it was later learned that she suffered a mini-stroke. In regards to her retirement, Sheindlin has stated that it's up to her viewers and when they tire of watching the program, which she believes will inevitably happen one day. As of the present, however, Sheindlin has stated that fans still seem to be interested and taking something out of the court show. Sheindlin admits the court show is "seductive" and hard to give up. Sheindlin said, "I'm not tired. I still feel engaged by what I do, and I still have people who like to watch it."
Other entertainment industry work
Since the success of Sheindlin's courtroom series, she has been interviewed on scores of talk shows and cable news programs over the course of her career, such as Entertainment Tonight, The Wendy Williams Show, Katie (numerous appearances), Larry King Live (numerous appearances), The View (numerous appearances), Donny & Marie, The Talk, The Tonight Show, Dateline NBC, 20/20, etc. On October 17, 1998, Sheindlin made a surprise guest appearance on Saturday Night Live, comedically interrupting one of Cheri Oteri's regular parodies of her presiding on Judge Judy. Also as a result of her Judge Judy show stardom, she served as a judge for the 1999 Miss America Pageant.
Early on in her celebrity on February 21, 2000, the Biography program aired a documentary film on Sheindlin, "Judge Judy: Sitting in Judgment" (later released on home video). This 60-minute documentary captured Sheindlin's entire life story (dating back to her childhood), legal career, authoring career, entertainment career, etc. The special also featured input from those closest to Sheindlin and those who knew her best. More recently on December 23, 2008, Sheindlin shared juicy revealing secrets about her life on Shatner's Raw Nerve, in which she was presumptuously interviewed by William Shatner. A year later in December 2009, Sheindlin again told the story of her life, legal career, authoring career, and entertainment courtroom career from an updated perspective in a two-hour interview for Archive of American Television. In a free-wheeling 60-minute interview conducted by Katie Couric on September 17, 2013, for the 92nd Street Y, Sheindlin elaborated on previously-undisclosed fun facts of her life story and long career in the family court.
As confirmed in January 2014, a new court show conceived by Sheindlin titled Hot Bench debuted on September 15, 2014. The courtroom series features a panel of three judges debating and deciding on cases brought to their TV courtroom. Stated Sheindlin, "When my husband Jerry and I were in Ireland recently, we visited the courts and watched a three judge bench, which I found both fascinating and compelling. I immediately thought what a terrific and unique idea for a television program that brings the court genre to the next level. We have assembled three individuals with extremely varied backgrounds to serve as the judges. They are smart and talented, with terrific instincts and great chemistry, and are sure to create a hot bench." The panel of judges consist of New York State Supreme Court judge Patricia DiMango, and Los Angeles attorneys Tanya Acker and Larry Bakman. As with Judge Judy, Hot Bench is executive-produced by Randy Douthit, and produced by CBS Television Distribution. It is important to note that Sheindlin originally desired the title of her personal courtroom series to be "Hot Bench" before producers ultimately settled on "Judge Judy."
Sheindlin has authored seven books. Her career as an author began prior to her courtroom series. One of her more recent books, which hit shelves on April 25, 2013, was inspired by one of her advisory catch phrases encouraging romantic partners to be judicious with regards to domestic partnerships. This catch phrase is: “There is no Court of People Just Living Together.” In September 2014, Sheindlin celebrated the opening of her 19th season by giving out her latest book, "What Would Judy Say: Be the Hero of Your Own Story," for free. Sheindlin's seven books are as follows:
- Sheindlin, Judith (1996). Don't Pee on My Leg and Tell Me It's Raining. Harper Collins. ISBN 0-06-092794-1.
- Sheindlin, Judith (1999). Beauty Fades, Dumb is Forever. Harper Paperbacks. ISBN 0-06-092991-X.
- Sheindlin, Judith (2000). Keep It Simple, Stupid: You're Smarter Than You Look. Cliff Street Books. ISBN 0-06-019546-0.
- Sheindlin, Judith (2000). Win or Lose by How You Choose. Harper Collins. ISBN 0-06-028780-2.
- Sheindlin, Judith (2001). You're Smarter Than You Look: Uncomplicating Relationships in Complicated Times. Harper Paperbacks. ISBN 0-06-095376-4.
- Sheindlin, Judith (2013). What Would Judy Say? A Grown-Up Guide To Living Together With Benefits. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. ISBN 1-4839-3167-6.
- Sheindlin, Judith (2014). What Would Judy Say: Be the Hero of Your Own Story.
Sheindlin launched an advice-sharing website,"," in May 2012. According to Sheindlin, the goal of the new website is to share her personal ideas and outlooks on life, have a forum to discuss a variety of different issues, and have a little fun.
Other projects and community work
Sheindlin is the creator, director, and spokesperson for an alliance designed to nurture and strengthen women, entitled "Her Honor Mentoring Program." The program's mission is to provide a platform for young women to reach their full potential, strengthen their practical skills in order to realize a life full of promise and reinforce the importance of college education and ultimately gain a meaningful profession.
In early 2015, Sheindlin and her courtroom series put together a Facebook contest for her fans, who sent letters explaining why their high school should be selected as the one at which Sheindlin would deliver a graduation commencement speech. A letter by Alexus Uentillie of Shiprock High School in Shiprock, New Mexico, was announced as the winner. Sheindlin's graduation commencement speech was delivered in late May 2015 and was covered by Entertainment Tonight .
- Lawsuit filed by Patric Jones
In March 2013 a lawsuit was filed against Sheindlin by Patric Jones, the estranged wife of Judge Judy executive producer Randy Douthit. Jones alleged Douthit and Sheindlin had conspired to permit Sheindlin to buy Christofle fine china and Marley cutlery owned by Jones. She said Sheindlin had paid Douthit $50,815 for the items without her knowledge to deprive her of her valuables, and she sought $514,421 from Sheindlin. The suit was settled out of court after Sheindlin returned the tableware to Douthit and Jones agreed to pay him $12,500 and have the tableware handed back to her.
- Lawsuit filed by Judy Sheindlin
On March 12, 2014, Sheindlin filed a lawsuit for the first time in her life. The suit was filed against Hartford, Connecticut personal injury lawyer John Haymond and his law firm. In the lawsuit, Sheindlin accused Haymond and his firm of using her television image without consent in advertisements that falsely suggested she endorsed him and his firm. Sheindlin's producer allegedly told the firm that use of her image is not permitted in March 2013, but ads continued. The lawsuit filed in federal court sought more than $75,000 in damages. Sheindlin said in her statement that any money she wins through the lawsuit will go toward college scholarships through the Her Honor Mentoring Program. Sheindlin further stated, "Mr. Haymond is a lawyer and should know better. The unauthorized use of my name is outrageous and requires legal action." Haymond later filed a countersuit for punitive damages and attorney's fees, alleging defamation of him and his firm by Sheindlin. Haymond insisted that local affiliates asked him to appear in Judge Judy promos to promote Sheindlin for which he obliged.
On August 8, 2014, it was reported that the case between Sheindlin and Haymond settled out of court in a resolution that favored Sheindlin. Haymond will be donating money to Sheindlin's charity, Her Honor Mentoring Program.
In 1964, Sheindlin married Ronald Levy, who later became a prosecutor in juvenile court. They moved to New York and had two children, Jamie and Adam, but divorced in 1976 after 12 years of marriage. Adam previously served as District Attorney in Putnam County, New York.
In 1977, she married Jerry Sheindlin, a judge who from 1999 to 2001 was an arbiter on The People's Court. They divorced in 1990, partially as a result of the stress and struggles that Judy incurred after her father's death that same year, but remarried the following year. She has three step children with Sheindlin; Gregory, Jonathan and Nicole, as well as her own biological children Jamie and Adam from her first marriage, and 12 grandchildren. Jonathan is a retinal surgeon and Greg and Nicole are lawyers.
Sheindlin owns homes in several states, including Connecticut, New York, Florida, and Wyoming. She commuted to Los Angeles every other week for two to four days to tape episodes of Judge Judy. However, in May 2013, she bought a $10.7 million condominium in the Los Angeles suburb of Beverly Hills.
Sheindlin is a supporter of same-sex marriage and, although she has said that she is not a supporter of "big government" she believes that the issue of same-sex marriage should be handled at the federal level rather than by a state by state change. She prefers not to be labelled by political terms, and states that she is not registered with any political party. When asked of the 2012 presidential elections, Sheindlin stated that while she voted for President Barack Obama in 2008 (as well as voting for Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton respectively in 1980 and 1984 and 1992 and 1996), she did not care for either candidate in the current race, and refused to reveal for whom she would be voting.