Kochavim / Stargazing

Jewish World Review June 30, 1998 / 6 Tamuz, 5758

Judge Judy
Judging Judge Judy

Nicki Gostin sits down to schmooze with the TV judge with the ‘tude and temper ... and discovers that under that black robe is a "Jewish mama" --- albeit, one who is far from traditional.


I was nervous meeting Judge Judy. Would she criticize my shade of lipstick? Would she admonish me for slouching?After all, on her self-titled show,Judge Judy is direct, caustic, and, well, sometimes downright scary.

In person, though, she's perfectly charming when we meet. But she bristles at criticisms of her pugnatious attitude.

"There's a difference between tough and mean," she explains. "As long as they don't say what I do is unfair. I catch people if they try to lie to me or try to get one over me. I say: ‘Do I look stupid?'"

Judge Judy is not some snappy moniker dreamed up by a TV exec. She honed her style of justice from being a prosecutor for 10 years and a Family Court judge for 25 more.

Ironically, New York's then-mayor, Ed Koch, appointed her to the bench. Now the two compete against each other in battling TV coutroom shows. Judge Judy is quick to mischeviously observe that she's winning in the ratings.

She theorizes that the crushing number of cases helped her develop her cut-to-the-chase style.

Raised in a traditional Jewish household, as a youngster, Judy Sheindlin, nonetheless, attended a Reform temple. Today, her Judaism is rooted more in cultural traditions than religion. And while some of her children are intermarried, they are raising the Judge's grandchildren "in the Jewish tradition."

Indeed, under Judge Judy's robe still beats the heart of a Jewish mother. When profiled recently on Entertainment Tonight, she managed to slip in several times that her "handsome son" was unmarried and looking.

As to be expected, the judge has some very strong views on America's criminal justice system.

"I wouldn't permit a plea bargaining, because I don't like the idea that you commit a crime and once caught, it becomes a game. I don't like the idea of bargaining with criminals. Somebody wants to plead guilty, they plead guilty. That's it. Just because I'm busy, doesn't mean I'm going to let you plead petty larceny, doing so sends the wrong message," she declares.

"I would also eliminate good time from jail," she continues. "You're sentenced to 10 years. You gotta serve 10 years and I resent the fact that just walking through the jail, you get a third-off your sentence for ‘good behavior.' You're supposed to be good in jail. It seems to me it should work the other way. If you misbehave in jail, you could add more time onto that."

Although the Judge-cum-celebrity eagerly follows the ratings, she takes it all with a grain of salt.

"I would prefer to be remembered for the 25 years in the Family Court where I really touched the lives of hundreds of people," she says.


© 1998, Nicki Gostin