An Afternoon with Judge Judy
Judge Judith Sheindlin (’65) spoke before a packed house at New York Law School, where she discussed her strong family background and personal sense of justice that has led her from New York Family Court to her own smash-hit of a “syndi-court” show, Judge Judy. Arguably New York Law School’s most famous alum (Sorry, Zygi), Judge Judy Sheindlin is a force to be reckoned with.
Born in Brooklyn in 1942, she has never shied away from keeping her personality and, and “moral compass” from impacting her interpretation of the law. Over the course of the ninety- minute event, A Conversation with Judge Judy ’65 exposed those fortunate enough to have a seat in the Events Center to the evolution of her career as an attorney, family court judge, and television personality. From the moment she assumed the podium, it was clear that what you see is what you get with Judge Judy Sheindlin.
Her love of the law as a mechanism for helping those who cannot help themselves is apparent, and she hopes that her popularity has instilled a sense of responsibility to keep our nation’s children out of trouble. At a time when few women entered the legal profession, Ms. Sheindlin began her career as in-house counsel for a cosmetics company. Feeling guilty about leaving her children at home to go to work, she took several years off in the early 1970s before entering the New York family court system as a prosecutor. Her no-nonsense attitude when it came to delinquent parents or, as she puts it, “parents who had no business being parents”, attracted the attention of Mayor Ed Koch, who appointed Ms. Sheindlin to the New York Criminal Court in 1976. She was later promoted to supervising judge in Manhattan Family Court where she set her sights on making sure whoever came before her wouldn’t do so again.
“It’s always someone else’s fault,” Judge Sheindlin said, alluding to a pattern she noticed over the course of her 25-year career as a family court judge. “I was controversial because I shifted the blame. It’s not someone else’s fault, I argued. It’s your fault. If you touch the life of a perpetrator in a meaningful way, they will think twice before stepping out of line again.”
Judy Sheindlin is undoubtedly motivated by her love of children and the law’s ability to provide them with the guidance their parents could not. She is openly critical of carrot-and-stick incentives for parents used by many government programs as opposed to, in her words, using just the stick, to punish parents who fail to fulfill their basic obligations. Judge Sheindlin credits her career as largely being the result of these failures, insisting when a child defendant stands before her in court, “it should be the second worst day of their life after circumcision.”
Even those unfamiliar with her show got to witness Her Honor in action when, in a clip shown to the audience, Judge Judy issued a ruling in a carjacking case in which a 16-year-old defendant threw a woman from her car and drove off. His excuse? He “was cold,” he said, expressing little remorse for his actions, Judge Judy spoke directly to the teen’s father who looked as if he’d given up on taking responsibility for his son. She also addressed the defendant’s previous infractions and sentenced the minor to additional hours working for his father, thereby preventing him from concentrating on his “personal life” to which he attributed his poor work ethic.
Judge Sheindlin explained that more and more, she is intent on imparting meaningful advice since, in her words, “the career’s getting shorter.” She believes she is viewed as a conservative, which she says is misleading. Her opinions have made her unpopular in Hollywood and, while remaining unaffiliated with any political party, Judge Sheindlin attaches herself to causes on both sides of the aisle. When asked about her legacy, she spoke of education and the need to help children learn to take care of themselves. She urged students in the audience to “look to the other side” and “try to overcome academia’s propensity to lean to the left since the answer could very well be in the middle.”
With faith that many NYLS graduates will one day be in a position to implement her views, Ms. Sheindlin shared her hope that society can reallocate its priorities. “Spend more money on victims and less on wrongdoers. Enforce work programs for parents on welfare and,” referring to an earlier reference to the aftermath of a Chinese food deliveryman’s murder, “spend on education for the victim’s children before worrying about the perpetrator’s psychotherapy.”
Despite backlash Judy Sheindlin has faced over the course of her career, she continues to believe most people share her opinions. “My show has been on for fifteen years because the message of individual responsibility has an audience.” Judging from the warm welcome she received from the NYLS community, it appears likely Ms. Sheindlin will return to campus to speak to equally receptive students for years to come.
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