Don’t think of it as Judge Judy redux. Think of it as Judge Judy to the third power.
Hot Bench is gavel-bangin’ in TV syndication; it co-stars civil litigator Tanya Acker, along with two other judges (Patricia DiMango and Larry Bakman), who hear all the small (even petty) claims court hot messes that make you feel just a little bit better about yourself and your life.
Then, Their Honors exit stage right and argue, debate, and render the verdicts that keep this TV genre as evergreen as ever. And your hunch is correct, as always: It’s produced by Judge Judy Sheindlin, guilty as charged.
The series gives you all the disorder in the court that you come to obsess on; recent cases involve the usual unusual suspects you find yourself staring at in disbelief (and convincing yourself that the laundry, the kids, dinner, and your career can wait): Feuding neighbors, slimy boyfriends, dirty-dealing businessmen, unscrupulous landlords, unscrupulous tenants and thoughtless teenagers. The dysfunctional parade never stops banging its drum and waving at the crowd.
Count on Tanya to see justice done for us. She’s a graduate of Oxford and Yale Law School, and yet she’s not slumming here.
“My background is very middle-class/working class,” she tells me. “My parents were working people. I’ve seen a lot of life outside of the ivory tower. Whether you are living at the top of the hill or living in a mobile home, there are some things that are common to the human condition. You don’t want to be cheated. You don’t want to be taken advantage of. You want justice. When somebody steps on your toes, when somebody robs you, you want to correct it.”
What is it about Hot Bench and other court shows that keep swearing us in?
“People don’t get the same kind of satisfaction of seeing justice done in real life, as they should,” Tanya explains. “[Court shows provide] a sense that the right thing is happening. There is a sense out there that justice is happening. These are real problems for people, and it feels good to bring a finality to them.”
The American justice system, boiled down to a TV studio, is what makes for a shit show with real character.
She says, “Some of these folks, they are heated, and they stay heated, and they don’t care if the camera is on them or not. They have bones to pick, and sometimes not just with the litigants, but sometimes with us! We give real-life drama.”
The idea for a panel of three judges holding court comes from the Irish legal system, which inspired Judge Judy during a trip there.
“A lot of times, a case turns on whether or not you believe somebody,” Tanya explains. “Majority rules on our show, so we three have to agree. Sometimes that’s hard. Sometimes we see people differently. We don’t often get to see judges interact like that. Normally, people just show up in court and they get a decision and they’re told, ‘this is how it is.’ I think the process of how it gets to be the way that it is is really fascinating for people.”
I also get to ask Tanya the question that she’s already answered a thousand times. Here goes answer #1001:
“Judge Judy, she’s phenomenal,” Tanya responds. “She’s exactly as she appears to be. If I loaded her with a bunch of b.s., she would treat me exactly the same as she would treat anyone on the show. Her rules are: Be yourself, be honest, be who you are, and that’s what she’s like. With her, what you see is what you get.”
Tanya applies that to the extracurricular activities that keep her plugged into the human condition and all its peculiarities: She’s a board member of The Western Justice Center, an organization comprised of lawyers and judges devoted to the creation of new tools for resolving disputes and the more efficient administration of justice.
She also serves as a board member and General Counsel for the Western Los Angeles County Council of Boy Scouts of America, which does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or any other basis with respect to either its Scouts, its volunteers, or its staff, and provides kids premium training in civics, community leadership and environmental stewardship.
Tanya, you may be causing trouble for your TV career with all this social goodwill: Better citizens make for fewer litigants, and you’re going to drain the pool! And where does that leave us? We object!
“What would clear up some of the cases in my courtroom would be more people acting like they had a little common sense and decency,” she says about what would really shorten the waiting list. “There is a real lack of home-training everywhere, frankly.”
As a board member for Public Counsel, the largest provider of free legal services in the country, she helps a diverse client base, from veterans to defrauded consumers, in various legal matters. Yet even after being exposed to so much drama and turmoil, she remains optimisitc about our future.
“A lot of kids, especially kids of color, hear these one-sided stories,” she says. “They turn on the news and they think all is lost. There is a lot of their history that they don’t know. For all of the bad news that we see, and all of the sad and distrurbing stories I hear in my courtroom, there are a lot of great people out there. I’m much more optimistic about our prospects than I am negative about them. And I’m mired in a lot of bad news every day.”
Tanya is no stranger to bad news as broadcast via the media. She’s covered the Conrad Murray trial for ET and has appeared on CBS’ The Early Show, ABC’s Good Morning America, CNN’s Larry King Live, CNN Reports and Anderson Cooper 360, HLN’s Prime News and Issues with Jane Velez-Mitchell, Fox News Channel’s The O’Reilly Factor and Your World With Neil Cavuto, CNBC’s CNBC Reports, as well as numerous appearances on Sky News and GMTV in Great Britain. She has also guest co-hosted CNBC’s Power Lunch.
“I think it has changed me,” she says of her media experience and residing on Hot Bench. “On the one hand, it can make me a little more cynical, by seeing the sense of entitlement in some people who think they can just brazenly take advantage. I’m a litigator and I’ve been in some pretty contentious legal battles. I have seen as many people who are willing to look another person in the eye and just take brazen advantage of them and feel no shame. The shamlessness, that is new to me. But that being said, I can’t get too mired in the cynicism. It’s so easy to find something that will bring you back.”
Find out more about Hot Bench here.