Is ‘Judge Judy’ Fake, and Is She a Real Judge?

The TV reality show concept of a judge taking on small claims cases ultimately didn’t start with Judge Judy. If you’re old enough to remember back to The People’s Court in its early days, you probably remember Judge Joseph Wapner shaping the court-based reality show into what it eventually became.

While The People’s Court is still on television, its original run led to a bevy of spinoffs. None of them have become more successful than Judge Judy. Otherwise known as Judy Sheindlin, she’s unquestionably become even tougher than any other TV judge before or since.

Even though Sheindlin is worth $400 million, how real is her show? Is it just reality show situation writing, or is it all true?

Is Judge Judy a real judge?

Judge Judy
Judge Judy | Hulton Archive/Getty Images

No doubt you’re skeptical that Judy Sheindlin is a real judge in an era where reality shows fool us into various situations. In truth, she really is a former judge and prosecution lawyer.

Sheindlin officially became a lawyer 54 years ago after passing the New York Bar Exam. Her first job in the legal arena was working as a cosmetics lawyer at a firm representing cosmetics.

After tiring of being a corporate lawyer, she took a break to have a family. It wasn’t until the early 1970s when she switched gears to become a prosecutor for the family court system in New York.

As you can see, Sheindlin is very real as evidenced from her own Twitter account where she thanked her fans for their birthday wishes last October 22. Plus, she tweeted about going after scammers selling a cosmetics line under her name.

Becoming a judge in family court

The cases Sheindlin had to take on in the New York family court system were very stressful. This was a larger weight when she divorced her first husband and couldn’t have enough time to be with her children.

In the early 1980s, things shifted again in her career when New York mayor Ed Koch gave her a prominent judgeship in criminal court. She was also supervising judge in the Manhattan division’s family court system a few years later.

These roles as judge helped shape her judging style you see today on Judge Judy. Thanks to a 1993 L.A. Times article about her legal approach, it led to her becoming a minor celebrity, despite her own show still being a few years away.

This quote in her interview almost became a lasting catchphrase:

“I can’t stand stupid, and I can’t stand slow.”

‘Judge Judy’ restarts the court-based reality show

When Judge Judy was offered to Sheindlin in 1993, Judge Wapner on The People’s Court had been off the air for a few years. Reality shows as we know them now hadn’t really started in earnest yet in prime-time.

Ironically, her husband (Jerry Sheindlin) briefly became the judge for the revival of The People’s Court in the late 1990s. Many media outlets have posted on Twitter showing how close they still are today.

You could say the Sheindlins helped reshape the way these reality-based court shows operate now. Nevertheless, you still have some who look skeptically at whether the court cases taken on by Judge Judy are real.

Bringing legal reality to TV

Much like all reality shows, those people you see bringing their cases to Judge Judy are paid appearance fees. Maybe you didn’t know that even the people sitting in the audience are paid. They’re essentially like movie extras and paid to look like a normal court audience.

Shows like Judge Judy have a fund set up to pay any settlement decided by Sheindlin. Since the defendant doesn’t have to pay these settlements, you can see why so many people still agree to appear on Judge Judy or similar shows.

Sheindlin herself once explained how they find people with real small claims court lawsuits. Those involved have to agree to remove their lawsuits from the real-world court system.

Yes, all of Judge Judy is very real. It’s one show where situation writers aren’t making a fortune anonymously as they likely are in today’s prime-time half-reality shows.