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Is Judge Judy a Real Court? Top 3 'Secrets' of TV Judge Shows

By Andrew Chow, Esq. | Last updated on

Lights... camera... legal action! If you want to sue someone but don't want a long, drawn-out court battle, there's another legal channel to turn to: Take your case to "Judge Judy."

But is "Judge Judy" for real? As the announcer says at the beginning of each episode, "The cases are real. The people are real. The rulings are final." In reality, though, it's a bit more complicated.

Here are some behind-the-bench "secrets" of "Judge Judy" and other TV judge shows that you may not have known:

1. The cases are real -- but the proceeding is an arbitration.

Though Judge Judith Sheindlin once presided in a New York courtroom, her role on TV is technically that of an arbitrator, The Consumerist website reports. This goes for other TV judges as well.

An arbitration involves submitting a dispute to an impartial person for a final, binding decision. It's supposed to be a cheaper, quicker way to resolve disputes than going to court.

Both parties to a case must agree to arbitrate their claims, and must also sign off on the rules of the arbitration. But keep in mind that in general, arbitration awards cannot be appealed.

2. The people are real -- but they don't have to pay.

In general, "Judge Judy" and other TV judge shows handle cases that would otherwise be heard in small-claims court. That limits the amount of money at issue in a dispute; for "Judge Judy" litigants, the maximum award is $5,000, according to

Regardless of the outcomes on "Judge Judy," both parties to a case emerge as winners. That's because the show pays for the arbitration award, along with the litigants' airfare and hotel expenses. For most "Judge Judy" litigants, that adds up to a free trip to Los Angeles.

3. The rulings are final -- but some have been overturned.

As a general rule, arbitration awards cannot be appealed. But there have been a few cases in which TV judge rulings have been overturned, The New York Times reports.

For example, a New York family court in 1999 overruled part of a "Judge Judy" decision because it went beyond the scope of the arbitration, the New York Law Journal reports. The parties in that case had agreed to arbitrate a dispute over personal property -- but Judge Judy's ruling also granted child custody and visitation rights.

One final word of caution: Appearing on a TV judge show like "Judge Judy" involves signing off on a lot of legal fine-print. You may want to consult an attorney to make sure your rights are protected before you pursue your 15 minutes of fame.

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