Judge Judy Recalls Her Friendship With Joan Rivers

Judge Judy Sheindlin 2011
Brad Barket /Getty Images

NEW YORK - APRIL 23: Judge Judy Sheindlin arrives to the New York Women in Communications 2007 Matrix Awards at the Waldorf Astoria on April 23, 2007 in New York City.

America’s highest-rated TV judge promotes a book and marks the launch of 'Hot Bench'

Judy Sheindlin, better known as Judge Judy, came to Beverly Hills Monday evening to launch her new book, What Would Judy Say? Be The Hero of Your Own Story, and to mark the debut of Hot Bench, a court show she created and is producing with CBS.

She also came to celebrate the launch of the 19th season of her wildly successful show Judge Judy. However, her friend Joan Rivers wasn't far from her thoughts.

Sheindlin, who turns 72 next month, had flown west with her husband, family, friends and team for the book party after attending Rivers' show biz-style funeral in New York on Sunday.

She and Rivers, who died Sept. 4 at age 81, had become friends in the last eight years, and Sheindlin said they had quickly become close. She fondly recalled a trip to Williamsburg, Va., with Rivers and their mutual friend Cindy Adams, a columnist for the New York Post, just because none of them had ever been there before.

What Rivers and Sheindlin shared was a penchant for saying what they thought was right even if it meant stepping on some toes or flustering critics, Sheindlin said. 

In Sheindlin’s case, her honesty has helped make her namesake half-hour daily show, which is distributed by CBS Television Distribution, the highest-rated first-run program in national syndication among all shows every year since 2009, and the highest-rated court show for the past 18 years. She makes a reported $47 million a year, the highest single salary in television, and has an estimated fortune of $200 million. And she only records shows 52 days a year.

So being forthright and honest has worked for her just as it did for Rivers, the TV judge argued.

"I think it’s a compliment to have my name mentioned in the same sentence with Joan,” Sheindlin told The Hollywood Reporter. "She was fearless. I’m not quite as fearless as she was, but I think if you tell the truth you don’t have to have a good memory, number one. And number two, probably one of the worst afflictions of this last half century were the two words ‘political correctness.’ In too many ways political correctness has been a bully."

Sheindlin cited a recent debate when comedian Ricky Gervais tweeted a joke saying no one would be able to hack into computer files to find naked photos of celebrities if they didn’t take naked pictures in the first place. Sheindlin said almost the same thing on The Talk on CBS earlier Wednesday.

“He was excoriated by these [feminist] groups.” said Sheindlin, "They said, ’You’re blaming the women for taking the pictures.’ That’s political correctness. I said the same thing. It could be I’m going to get the mail, too.”

She added: "What Ricky Gervais said was really true. If you don’t want to revisit something, don’t have that extra beer, and don’t smoke a hookah if you’re going to Harvard, because they are going to find it.”

Sheindlin made it clear she doesn't care what critics think. “I don’t read bad mail,” she said. “I don’t save mail. I’m too old to read negative things. Save your ink!”

Sheindlin rose from being a Manhattan court judge to being America’s highest-rated TV judge by pushing boundaries and speaking her mind in a way even TV viewers could recognize as genuine.

“Judy and Joan both are tellers of truth,” said Patricia DiMango, who Sheindlin hand-picked to be one of three judges on Hot Bench. “They cut through the B.S. and young people like it, while older people admire it.”

Sheindlin told the story of how she came to choose DiMango during the book party at the Peninsula Hotel. She had called a friend who ran the labor union that represents security officers in the New York courts. She told him: “I need me, only younger.”

He said he would call her back in five minutes. When he did it was to recommend DiMango, a 50-something divorcee who the New York Daily News called “the city’s most entertaining judge” when the Brooklyn native announced in January she would walk away from a secure, high-paying state job as administrative judge of the Brooklyn Supreme Court to pursue TV stardom.

DiMango, who attended the book party along with the other two judges on Hot Bench, attorneys Tanya Acker and Larry Bakman, says she has already learned a lot from Sheindlin.

"Pretty much to be consistent and truthful to who I am, because I’ve come to this position based on my background and my experience on the bench and the type of personality I reflect on the bench,” she said. "The only way to be successful in both places is to be true to yourself, true to what you believe in, and to put it out there as honestly and candidly as possible."

Sheindlin told the crowd her family encouraged her to write the new book to share her wisdom about life that goes beyond the courtroom.  The thin paperback (less than 90 pages) promises an honest conversation with women about “what it really takes to get what you deserve out of life.”

The price is certainly right: It’s free to anyone who wants to download a copy. But if you like it, Judge Judy rules that you have to make a donation to charity.

"Because you never value what you get for free,” she said at the book party. "If you learn anything I want you to make a donation to Stand Up to Cancer, because that will help all of us.”

Sheindlin said she chose that particular charity because it is supported by someone who inspires her: Sherry Lansing, the former Paramount Studio boss who now is involved in philanthropic efforts

Lansing was on hand, along with a number of others, including Sharon Osborne from The Talk; producers Anne and Arnold Kopelson; stage and screen star LaTanya Richardson; philanthropist Wendy Goldberg; and CBS executives including Hilary Estey McLoughlin, president of programming and development, and Joe Ferullo, executive vp current programing.

DiMango called Sheindlin "everything that a judge basically stands for." She added: "She’s bright. She cuts through the B.S. She is fair. She is driven by wanting to do the right thing in the courtroom. She’s driven by doing a no-nonsense job. And that’s exactly what we do on the bench, and that’s what the viewer sees on TV. They want realistic courtroom shows.”

That's exactly what Judge Judy has been delivering since her show premiered in 1996. 

CORRECTION Sept 9, 10;30 a.m. pst - The name of Judge Judy's new book was incorrect in an earlier version of this article. Her age has been corrected and the number of years it has been highest rated court show.