We were operating under the misunderstanding that Judge Judy was a broadcast of an actual small claims court somewhere, but then our legal beagle intern Alex informed us that it’s really just arbitration dressed up to look like small claims court.
The power the judge has over the parties is granted by the contract of adhesion they sign to appear. If the defendant loses, the tv product team pays the plaintiff the judgment fee. If the judge finds for the defendant, both parties receive an appearance fee. The judges are not bound by real rules of procedure, evidence, or even behavior. Since it’s a contract of adhesion, a decision can only really be successfully appealed if the decision falls outside the scope of what’s in the contract.
So while the cases and people may be real, the courts could be held on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise and still have the same effect. It’s all just part of the collective hallucination we call television.
The concern is that in making syndi-courts look like real courts, they can warp potential jurors attitudes about how a court case should be conducted. In a survey when asked whether a judge should be aggressive with litigants or express displeasure with testimony, 26.32% of non-frequent viewers said yes, and 63.76% of frequent viewers said yes.
Syndi-Court Justice: Judge Judy and Exploitation of Arbitration (PDF) [ABANET.org]
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