The views of this article are the perspective of the author and may not be reflective of Confessions of the Professions.
The Lessons of Courtroom Trial Television Shows
I often avoided watching courtroom trial television shows until recently, but once I started watching them, I realized the important values they taught. Shows like Jerry Springer, Maury Povich, and Steve Wilkos do have their valuable lessons as well, such as not fooling around when you are in a relationship and definitely not sleeping with any of your cousins or their girlfriends or boyfriends (Jerry), figuring out how many men you forgot you slept with and who your baby daddy is or stepping up to the plate if you are the father—or dancing and laughing at the girl who accused you if you are not (Maury), and more serious sometimes awkward criminal justice cases such as abuse and paternal issues (Steve). While there are plenty of cases in trial television that are complete nonsense, there are plenty of others that do teach very valuable lessons.
The shows I am referring to are Judge Judy, Judge Gloria Allred, Judge Mathis, Judge Alex, Judge Kevin Ross, Judge Joe Brown, The People’s Court, Divorce Court, etc. All the judges are real and authentic, usually have many years of experience, and do have all the powers of any judge in the United States Judicial System. The judges were likely given the opportunity to do the television show based on their track record. TV producers are certainly looking for judges who have a specific personality-type and can handle the stress and pressure of the job, while also still remaining entertaining to a television audience. These shows are meant to entertain and bring money into television networks.
The judges and television networks make a fortune on these shows from advertising, often working over 8 hours a day for just a few days out of the month, as the cases are just an assembly line of people that the judges “run through” during the entire day. These shows are condensed into a half hour, usually with two cases each episode, making it look like these judges work a half hour a day. The audience is filled with guests who applied to get on the show for free. The make-up is usually more women than men, and throughout the day, they shuffle men and women around plus they hire extras or use on-staff employees to make it look like a new audience with each case, so it appears that the audience is different and that the same audience is never seen on more than one episode. Occasionally, the judge may or may not interact with the audience, depending on how tired they are or how they feel.
The result of the condensed half hour episode means tons of advertising, a lot of money (Judge Judy is the highest paid TV personality who makes $45 million a year) and a lot of vacation time for the judges. The Defendants and Plaintiffs who agree to appear on the show often receive compensation in the form of waived court fees, a free trip to the town where the court is located, a hotel stay, and some money for food for several days, and in some cases, the show may pay for the Plaintiff or Defendant’s bill if money was granted to either party.
These court shows do, however, have lessons to teach for real life situations in court. These court shows are mainly for small-claims court in which the offenses are minor, usually people suing each other. More often than not, a lawyer is usually not present or necessary for these cases. People are assigned a court date and the judge has a certain amount of cases per day. The judge listens to both the Plaintiff and then the Defendant speak. Many of these cases are easily solved because either side hardly ever presents factual evidence or one side may be the only side to present concrete information to the judge. When the judge sees and listens to hearsay, the case goes quickly and is easily dismissed. Words are just words. Without proof of receipts, emails, or letters, no case can stand up to a judge or jury in court. Most people will not remember what was said exactly or what was done.
The important lessons court television shows teach are:
- The courtroom is a place of professionalism
- The judge is the primary authority to respect
- Addressing the judge as “Your Honor” is the best and only way to address a judge
- Make complete eye contact with the judge when you speak
- Be very polite and very respectful to the judge
- Take a moment to say Hello to the judge before you present your case
- Dress your best; dress appropriately—you will be judged by the judge based on how you present yourself to the judge—so cover up any tattoos and remove any unnecessary piercings
- Speak clear English and do not curse
- No slang
- Stand straight, no leaning
- Look and act like you care
- Before you even enter the courtroom, make sure you have your story straight and all the evidence you need—even if you do not think you need all the evidence, take it all with you anyway—your goal is to try and get the judge to side with you, and a judge can only do that if all of your evidence adds up and helps your case
- Make sure you get straight to the point of your story, and present it in an organized fashion, but do not leave out any important details
- Do not stutter or change your story
- Do not lie—after so many years of experience, a judge has learned to read body language and can distinguish between truth and bullshit
- The judge has seen thousands of people before you and will see thousands of people after you
- The judge worked hard and became good at his or her job to do what they do and be where they are now
- The judge has learned to separate emotion from fact and base your testimony only on the facts
- The judge has become very good at making judgements
- If you have evidence to defend yourself, you must try to obtain that evidence to prove the accused is guilty—having evidence to only prove yourself innocent is not always enough to win a court case
- You get one chance to prove yourself—One Chance
- Make sure you have everything you need because if you blow it, you will probably not get a second chance
- Understand that just because you think you are right does not mean you are right
- Understand that there are two sides to every story and yours may not be right
- Understand that even though your friends and family agree with your story, it still may not be right
- A witness may or may not be able to help you, so do not rely solely on witness testimony
- Have factual paper evidence that can be presented to the judge
- Make sure your evidence makes sense and is clear to the judge
- Video, photo, or audio evidence is some of the best type of evidence, but may not always help your case
- Do not waste the judge’s time—they really do not want to see you in court
- If the judge asks you a question, give a clear and concise answer
- Do not talk when the judge is talking and never talk back to the judge
- Do not undermine the judge or have an attitude towards the judge
- Emotion is not Fact—a judge does not have time for your tears, only the evidence
- If you are the Defendant, allow the Plaintiff to speak—wait until they are finished presenting their case and do not interrupt
- If you are the Plaintiff, allow the Defendant to speak—wait until they are finished presenting their case and do not interrupt
- Do not argue with the Plaintiff or Defendant in front of the judge; you are an adult, behave like an adult
- As much as you may dislike the accused, do not disrespect them in court and do not argue with them in the courtroom
- If you take a person to court, especially if it was a friend, that relationship is most likely no more—it’s over—end all connections and ties to that person
- After all is said and done, win or lose, accept the sentence you have been given—you may be able to appeal the judge’s decision at a later time, though you may want evaluate why you received that particular judgement—but for now, thank the judge for their time in reviewing your case—even if you do not agree with the ruling
Court television is entertaining and enjoyable to watch and provides lessons to be learned and makes you think about what you would do if you were in such a situation. It is often interesting to see cases where you may have already made your judgments based on the short introduction about the cases they give without hearing the entire story — and usually after the commercial break, there is always some twist in the case that may make you change your decision. Court TV is a close representation of what anyone might face by stepping inside of a court room. By following all these rules – if you ever have to go to court – though there is never a guarantee if you will win or lose – these lessons will help you in a Court of Law.