I recently came across an article in the American Bar Association’s ABA Journal that contains some surprising results from a Reader’s Digest poll. The magazine polled over a thousand Americans to determine the top one hundred most trusted people in the United States. As a lawyer, the most startling results for me were those for judges. According to the poll, the most trusted judge in America is Judith Sheindlin, the eponymous host of television’s Judge Judy. Several places below her on the list was Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, followed by Chief Justice John G. Roberts and Justice Anthony M. Kennedy.
After reading this, I decided to do a little more research (on Wikipedia) on television’s most recognizable judge. Before being on TV, Judge Judy worked as a lawyer in the New York family courts before being appointed to the bench. After being featured on an episode of 60 Minutes, she was contacted about starring in her own reality courtroom series. The show, which began in 1996, has been an incredible success and has made Sheindlin an extremely wealthy woman. It has been reported that she is the highest paid personality on television, making approximately $45 million annually for 52 days of taping per year.
As I suspected, in her televised role, Judge Judy is not really a judge at all – she is actually acting as a private arbitrator, adjudicating small-claims disputes within a simulated courtroom setting. All parties appearing on the show sign contracts agreeing to have their matter arbitrated by Sheindlin. Although not done on a courtroom set, I occasionally arbitrate estate and trust disputes as part of our Hull Estate Mediation practice.
Anyone who knows me in a professional capacity knows that I am a big proponent of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms such as mediation, arbitration and the emerging practice of “med-arb” whereby an unsuccessful mediation automatically transitions into arbitration. Alternative dispute resolution can allow for settlements to be reached more expediently, more efficiently and more privately than through the traditional court process. When faced with the reality of litigation, methods of alternative dispute resolution can serve to ease the pain of what can be an extremely expensive and emotional process for clients.
While I do appear in a “television” series, it is unfortunately nothing like Judge Judy. Despite this, I am happy to now know that Sheindlin and I both promote alternative dispute resolution in our own very different ways.
Thanks for reading and have a good week.