Have you ever found yourself watching an episode of Judge Judy and thought, mid Judy-tirade, “Why the hell do people go on this show?” Why, would any dignified person, want to be judged by Judy? Last year, a letter made the rounds on the internet that shed some light on this question. In August 2015, Imgur user Iwadeonthewateroccasionally uploaded a letter he apparently received from a Judge Judy producer, asking him to appear on the show after “field researchers” from the show came across his small claims case. The letter explained that even if a defendant loses his case, Judge Judy will cover the fees for the plaintiff. In addition, all parties involved get an expense-free trip to Los Angeles to film. It was signed by Julie Turner, whose LinkedIn account still lists her as a producer for the show.
So basically, Judge Judy handles all the costs of your case AND flies you to L.A.—you just have to be down to tell America your messy drama.
This deal was enticing enough to convince Shafiqah Hudson to appear on the show as a witness in her friend’s case. Like the man who posted his letter on Imgur, Hudson’s friend was sought out by show producers after she sued her neighbor for water damages to her apartment. Hudson detailed her experience on the show in emails to Complex:
Our episode was filmed on July 7, 2009, the same day as Michael Jackson's memorial at the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles. There were people on my flight who were specifically flying out to L.A. for Jackson's memorial ceremony. LOTS of fedoras, tight black pleather pants, and sequined gloves. It was the most surreal flight ever.
According to Hudson, Judge Judy (real name Judith Sheindlin) is as intimidating as she seems on television. “I'd been in spaces with folks who are known for having really intimidating presences before. I thought I was ready. NOPE. That lady's scary as fuck,” Hudson told us.
“During filming, I made the well-intentioned mistake of trying to defend my friend, interrupting Judge Judy as she gave her verdict—twice—and she shushed me—twice,” Hudson wrote. “The second time, she gave me a glower that froze my blood. Plus, you know, the whole stage crew— camera operators, lighting people, extras sitting behind me, and the bailiff—were collectively frowning at me. My camera guy moved his camera away from his face JUST to frown and shake his head at me.”
Jimmy Missry, another Judge Judy participant who spoke to Complex, had quite a different experience. Back in 2000, Missry was watching Judge Judy and was inspired to write in about his small claims case. He was suing a friend for damages to his BMW after the friend moved his car as a prank and returned it with a missing grill, a dent, and no explanation for the damage. When a show producer actually reached out, Missry, who was 21 at the time and living in New Jersey, was understandably psyched to go on a free trip to the west coast.
“Originally, they booked my flight from a Tuesday to Thursday, and I got them to extend it through the weekend. It was like a vacation,” he said in a phone call.
During the episode, Judge Judy called Missry a “wise guy” and reprimanded him for the amount of water he drank on set, but in the end, he won his case and left what Missry estimates was about $1600 to $1700.
“I spent it all that weekend,” Missry recalled.
Though Missry and Hudson both said they were grateful for the experience, neither plan to be judged by Judy in the foreseeable future. To quote Hudson directly: “AGAIN? Hell, no.”