Judge Judy Rules No-Nonsense Court

Judge Judy Rules No-Nonsense Court

When Judge Judy's on the bench, the court comes to order. The no-nonsense television judge, who has ruled with an iron gavel for 15 years, is ratings gold. Out of the nine court shows on television, "Judge Judy" has ranked at No. 1 for 700 consecutive weeks.

"There's a reason that my program has been on for 15 years...that's because people really want their brethren to act socially responsible," said Judy Sheindlin, better known as Judge Judy. "They want the good guy to win, and they are looking for the bad guy to get whoopin', and they very rarely do."

It's also her tough-talking take-downs that have made "Judge Judy" so popular. Yet during a visit at her home Sheindlin displays a softer side, albeit one the viewers rarely see. Why is that?

"Who is interested in that? Who is interested in the warm and fuzzy? There's enough warm and fuzzy on television," she said. "There are 350 channels of warm and fuzzy...of how to be a better you, how to make the most out of a full figure, how to be happy in your own skin."

Is she referring to her main daytime competitor, Oprah?

"I don't think that Oprah's a competitor of mine," Sheindlin said. "Oprah is the queen of daytime. I think that she is a phenomenal business lady. I think that she had a tremendous vision. I think that her talents are boundless. I think she works 24/7. I have tremendous respect for her. All of those things. It's not for me, that's not for me. I like my life of balance."

Competitive or not, Sheindlin's take-no-prisoners style has found its own beefy audience in daytime TV. In fact, for the last seven weeks in a row she has beaten Oprah Winfrey in the ratings.

In truth, Sheindlin -- a 67-year-old grandmother -- thought she'd be retired by now. The television stardom -- and her reportedly $45 million annual income -- was something of a happy accident.

Judith Sheindlin had a 24-year legal career; 14 of those on the bench as a family court judge in New York City, where she earned a reputation for doling out justice along with sharp one-liners. But she also faced criticism for being too tough on minorities who appeared before her -- a charge she adamantly denies.

"I don't care if you're red, white, blue, chartreuse, polka dot or orange, you're supposed to do the right thing. That's it," Sheindlin said.

After an appearance on "60 Minutes" with Morley Safer in 1993, television executives saw a potential gold mine in Sheindlin's tough-love approach. Her life took a surprising turn: she went from a being a family court judge earning $90,000 a year to a television super-star. It wasn't part of her plan.

"The master plan, actually," for Sheindlin and her husband Jerry, she said, "was eventually to retire, and get as close to the water in Florida as we could."

Instead of a condo a few blocks from the beach, she got her own television show, and the couple got a new place, upgrading from a Manhattan studio apartment to the palatial Connecticut estate where they now live. They got that place in Florida by the beach, too. And a private plane to ferry them back and forth.

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