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The untold truth of Judge Judy

Judge Judith Sheindlin, known to most as Judge Judy, made a name for herself with her no-nonsense attitude, tough talk, and the long, belittling lectures she gives people who appear before her. But there are some other details about this legal lady and her show that she doesn't talk about much. Since she's too modest to reveal them herself, we've compiled them here for your pleasure.

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The producers are essentially ambulance chasers

The defendants and plaintiffs who appear before Judge Judith Sheindlin are neither assigned to her nor do they seek her out. All that is handled by the honorable judge's producers. According to a letter obtained by Radar Online, they headhunt through small claims courts for cases that'd be fun for the rest of the country to watch on television. In the letter, producer Julie Turner entices a defendant into bringing his or her case to Judge Judy with the promise of appearing on television, because what better setting is there to have a personal matter settled than in front of millions of strangers?

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Producers pay the fines

Even though the show claims all the decisions are legally binding, they really aren't. That's because the fines Judy doles out aren't paid by the cases' losers, as would happen in real-life court cases. They're actually paid by producers. In the same letter inviting the unknown defendant to appear on the show, Turner promises that even if this anonymous person loses the case, he or she won't be responsible for any fees or penalties. Any money comes from the producers, which is a sweet deal for most of the people who appear on the show, as they tend to have little money. Sheindlin herself even confirmed this little-known fact about producer-paid settlements in a wide-ranging interview with the Archive of American Television. If only real court cases worked this way! And that's not the only money to switch hands on behalf of the good judge…

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Everyone gets paid

While it may not be as profitable as hitting the Powerball, appearing on Judge Judy is a financial win-win situation for both the plaintiffs and the defendants. If anything, it's probably the closest thing to an all-expenses-paid vacation that some of them will ever see. Turner's letter goes on to say that in addition to paying for the case's outcome, the show also pays appearance fees to all litigants who appear on the program, along with travel expenses for them and any witnesses they wish to bring along. Of course, those witnesses have to have something to do with the case, but still, a free trip to Los Angeles will entice anyone to say anything, which often leads to Judge Judy's next little-known fact.

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Some of the cases are fake

Obviously, learning that parts—if not all—of a reality show are staged isn't much of a surprise these days. But the makers of Judge Judy can deny responsibility for some of the fakery…because some of the people who appear on the show simply fabricate entire cases for them. In 2010, Vice reported that Jonathan Coward and his friends Brian and Kate concocted an insane story involving two broken televisions and a dead cat in order to get on the show. (Coward got the idea from another friend who appeared on Judge Judy in the '90s.) Producers took the bait and flew Coward and his three friends out. After the taping, the trio celebrated by renting a convertible and drinking champagne in a hot tub for the rest of the day. How did it feel to take advantage of Judge Judy? When asked, Coward said, "It felt awesome! It felt so good." And no, he shouldn't feel bad, because…

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There are no real judgments, as she's no longer a judge

Though Sheindlin was appointed a judge by Mayor Ed Koch in 1982, she doesn't preside as a real judge on television. The set has all the accessories and details of a courtroom, but what Sheindlin does is basically arbitration. As reported by Consumerist, Judge Judy, and other television courts, operate under a contract of adhesion, meaning they "are not bound by real rules of procedure, evidence, or even behavior." So on her show, Sheindlin isn't a judge making a legal decision. She's more of a mediator trying to solve other people's problems. So at most, she's just a glorified middle school vice principal.

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Bailiff Byrd wasn't supposed to be as big of a character

There is no doubt that the success of Judge Judy is largely due to the powerhouse persona that is Judith Sheindlin, but the chemistry between Sheindlin and her longtime courtroom companion, Bailiff Petri Hawkins-Byrd, is another crucial element of the show. And it wasn't originally planned that way.

During an interview on Hollywood Today Live, Byrd revealed that producers had no idea he and Sheindlin were going to banter the way they do. "The first show we ever taped, we're sitting there and she's talking to some guy and he's denying anything to do with not giving back the person the money and she looks over to me and she goes 'SODDI,' and I just look and I go, 'Yeah, some other dude done it,'" Byrd said, adding, "And so, it got a reaction, and they asked afterwards, they said, 'Are you gonna talk to her all the time?' And I said, 'Well, if she talks to me I talk to her.'" Their comedy routine was born in that moment, and Byrd even joked that it changed his status into a "principal player" and earned him more money.

And in case you didn't think it was cool enough that Byrd basically charmed his way into becoming an indispensable character on one of the most successful daytime TV shows of all time, he also revealed this amazing secret about what's really on that clipboard he's always holding: Crossword puzzles. Yep. While Sheindlin is busy hurling vicious one-liners at the poor schlubs standing before her, Byrd is off to the side playing word games.

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Judge Judy and Byrd actually worked together in real courtrooms

The crackling chemistry between Sheindlin and Byrd didn't come out of nowhere. In fact, long before Sheindlin started doling out her acid-tongued judgement for a national audience, she was doing it in Manhattan Family Court with Byrd right by her side, according to The Los Angeles Times. But he actually almost soured the relationship once when he was caught impersonating her when he thought she wasn't around.

"I had on her robe and her glasses, and I was doing this really good impression of her for these lawyers and clerks and stenographers," Byrd told the Times. "Everyone was laughing. Then all eyes shifted to my left and they stopped laughing…. I said. 'I'll just resign. Please don't fire me.' But she was very cool. She had a sense of humor," he continued. Wow, that really could have gone another way, huh?

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Byrd was barely getting by when he was cast on the show

It was a tumultuous time in Byrd's life when he got the unlikely opportunity to become a TV star. He'd just moved from New York to California in a last-ditch effort to save his struggling marriage and he was working as a counselor at a high school, making $30,000/year and delivering pizzas on the side, according to his interview with Sacramento Magazine. After reading in a gossip column that a TV show was being developed around his former judicial colleague, he wrote her a congratulatory letter which joked, "If you ever need a bailiff, I still look good in a uniform." Amazingly, Sheindlin replied that they were, in fact, looking for a bailiff, and the rest is history.

Oh, and this probably goes without saying, but Byrd is no longer struggling. While he's not making the kind of legendary cash Judge Judy rakes in (More on that in a minute), according to Celebrity Net Worth, he's worth around $3.5 million. That's not a bad chunk of change for doing what essentially amounts to a lot of eyebrow acting with a few snarky retorts mixed in.

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Judge Judy makes bank

As we just mentioned, Judge Judy has been on the air for a record-breakingly long time. That doesn't happen without stellar ratings, and America's most ornery small claims judge has got those for days. Raking in a stunning average of 6.5 million daily viewers, Judge Judy actually beat Oprah to achieve the title of "No. 1 daytime show" in 2010.

And in exchange for her domination of daytime TV, Sheindlin has been handsomely rewarded. According to The Washington Post, Sheindlin recently renewed her contract through 2020 for an undisclosed amount. But her previous contract netted her $47 million per year, which she earned working only 52 total days out of the year. That is straight-up baller status, and it makes Sheindlin one of the highest paid, if not the highest paid women in all of television. Oh yeah, Sheindlin also owns five multi-million dollar homes, a private jet, and at one time, a 152-foot-long yacht, aptly named Triumphant Lady. As Byrd would say…well, actually, he probably wouldn't say anything. He'd just stand there looking stern with his arms folded.

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She was kind of a celebrity before the show

Judge Judy went on the air in 1996. But in 1993, The Los Angeles Times did a story on Sheindlin in which they referred to her work in family court as a "highly personal crusade to bring order out of chaos," which "has assumed folkloric proportions in America's largest juvenile justice system." The story eventually led to her now-infamous 60 Minutes profile, which in turn landed Sheindlin a book deal, effectively transitioning her from public servant to celebrity author basically overnight.

That book's title, Don't Pee on my Leg and Tell Me It's Raining, sounds like the Judge Judy-est thing ever said, but it's actually a line Sheindlin borrowed from her beloved father. Sheindlin did, however, use the book to begin showcasing her own trademark zingers, like "I'll send you so far upstate your mother will need a passport to visit you!" In other words, Sheindlin was already a star before producers ever pointed a camera at her—she just didn't know it yet.

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She might've taken down a school

When Tony Robb's mother sent him to Cornerstone Christian School in Clearlake, CA, she didn't think her son would be locked in a storage closet for hours a day, but that's what happened. Connie Sager, Robb's godmother and benefactor (She paid for a year of his tuition to attend Cornerstone) subsequently appeared on Judge Judy, hoping she could get her tuition money back. Sager and the Robb family never could have predicted what followed.

The defendants' testimony revealed that the majority of the staff not only lacked the necessary skills to deal with special-needs students like Robb, they even lacked Bachelor's degrees. The principal only held an Associate's degree. In case you're not informed about the requirements to be a school administrator, they go far beyond attending a two-year school. Even worse: the superintendent only had a high school diploma. Following a justifiable tirade, Sheindlin awarded Sager the total of the tuition money. Sometime later, the school was apparently closed down completely.

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She's inspired others to do good

Marilyn Mosby, who prosecuted the 2015 case for the wrongful death of Freddy Gray, cut her teeth on Judge Judy. Back in 2000, the then-Tuskegee University student appeared before Sheindlin, suing her neighbor for throwing a baby shower in her apartment, which destroyed the residence. That must've been one wild shower. According to The Baltimore Sun, Mosby handled herself like a pro, bringing photographic evidence of the destruction with her. She ultimately won her case, and from there, went on to study at Boston College Law School. The rest is history. Talk about stepping up in life.

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The show holds a Guinness World Record

In September of 2015, Judge Judy celebrated its 20th season, which is a remarkable feat for any TV show, let alone one that features a cranky Brooklynite yelling at people for 30 straight minutes. But it was a landmark achievement nonetheless, and one recognized by the Guinness World Records, who awarded Sheindlin that same year for having the "longest career as a TV judge."

At the time of the award, Judge Judy had been on the air for just under 19 years, which amounted to 4,500 episodes and "more than 9,000 cases" heard. As of this writing, Sheindlin is still presiding over her make-believe courtroom, and with Judge Joe Brown's 2013 cancellation after 15 seasons, it's not likely any other TV judge will ever come close the her record.

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Two former producers sued the show

In 2008, two former Judge Judy staffers sued the show's production company over alleged wrongful termination. According to ABC News, Karen Needle, a former associate producer who "helped book audiences for the show" alleged that she was fired and given the vague reason that it was due to "an unspecified conflict from her audience work." But she believed it was truly related to unmet requests she had made for "a new chair" to help alleviate her back pain, as well as time off she took to "to assist her ailing 88-year-old mother."

Jonathan Sebastien, a former Senior Producer who was fired on the same day as Needle, told TMZ he believes he was fired for complaining about the "alleged whitewashing" of the litigants who got cast at the behest of show creator, Randy Douthit. "We're not doing any more black shows," and "I don't want to hear black people arguing," Sebastien claims he was told by Douthit. Sebastien also claims he was "berated and mocked," then fired after raising concerns about the casting policy.

Sheindlin wasn't named in either case, and while it's unclear what became of the two lawsuits, Judge Judy remains on the air almost a decade later.

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So did show creator Randy Douthit's ex-wife

In what is probably the most bizarre behind-the-scenes fact about Judge Judy, the honorable wisecracking judge got entangled in show creator Randy Douthit's ugly divorce over—get this—a bunch of dishes and flatware. According to TMZ, Sheindlin paid Douthit $50,000 dollars for some Christofle tableware, which Douthit's ex-wife, Patric Jones, claimed he had no right to sell, as it was community property. Furthermore, Patric alleged that Sheindlin and Douthit colluded to bilk her out of the valuable flatware, as well as schemed to "reduce [Douthit's] profit participation in the Judge Judy show so he wouldn't have to fork over as much money in the divorce settlement."

As you can guess, Sheindlin didn't take kindly to Jones' accusations. Not only did Sheindlin return the dishes and silverware to Douthit without requesting her money back, but she also issued the following statement regarding Ms. Jones: "This very unpleasant lady doesn't give a hoot about dishes. She cares about pressuring her ex-husband and the way to do that is to attempt to embarrass me."

Douthit publicly apologized for ensnaring Sheindlin in his mess, saying, in part, "I am truly sorry that Judge Judy Sheindlin was brought into this domestic dispute. She relied on my statement to her that the court had authorized the sale." He then brilliantly turned the whole thing around on his ex, who, according to TMZ, was claiming the dinnerware was worth north of half a million dollars. Since Jones' claim hinged on the fact that it was "community property," Douthit made her the following offer: "When I get the cashier's check for $250,000, I will deliver them to her." Well played, sir. Sounds like someone learned a thing or two from his boss over the years.