Judge Judy's Salary Heads to Appeals Court

A recent settlement between a talent agency and a CBS subsidiary has fast-tracked an appeal with perhaps broad implications.
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Judy Sheindlin has made it clear that she intends to end Judge Judy after its 25th season in syndication, but a legal fight over her mammoth $47 million-a-year salary could spur a major showdown before a California appeals court. On Wednesday, court papers were filed indicating a battle between Rebel Entertainment and CBS subsidiary Big Ticket Entertainment is far from over.

Rebel has been pursuing Big Ticket over profits to the show for many years. Rebel is the successor-in-interest to the talent agency that packaged Judge Judy in the 1990s. Although CBS, Big Ticket and Sheindlin don't think much of Rebel's work, the entity is contractually owed a 5 percent share of net profits for Judge Judy. The problem for Rebel, according to its lawyers, is that Sheindlin's salary eats those profits. A 2016 suit claimed that the production company shouldn't be deducting her inflated salary as a production cost.

Two years ago, the defendants scored a summary judgment win on this issue. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Joanne O'Donnell pointed to how Judge Judy was the only first-run syndicated television show to experience year-to-year ratings growth during its tenure. "Plaintiff has presented no evidence that the salary was negotiated in bad faith or is unreasonable in light of the undisputed 'resounding success' of Judge Judy and the fact that without its namesake star the show could not continue," she wrote.

Since then, the case has continued to explore other controversies, including money from the Sheindlin-created series Hot Bench, but Rebel has been eager to revisit that big 2018 ruling over Sheindlin's salary. Recently, Rebel and Big Ticket came to a settlement, but as made clear in a filing on Wednesday, the terms of the deal really just put all other issues to bed in order to fast-track the appeal over the salary deduction.

Now that Judge Judy is headed to an appeals court, Hollywood should tune in.

In most instances, the interests of profit participants for a television series are aligned. But what happens when they are not — say when a showrunner gets fired or an actor departs, and the ongoing producers look to derive all the spoils of the series?

This Judge Judy case presents an analogous situation — or at least, allegedly. What Rebel is essentially claiming is that CBS and Sheindlin colluded with each other to convert the show's profits into the show's star's salary. (CBS and Sheindlin are currently facing a separate lawsuit for doing something similar to the sale of old episodes).

On appeal, Rebel will seek to revive a claim that Big Ticket breached contract and an obligation for fair dealing in what Judge Judy decided to pay Sheindlin. Rebel will assert that at the very least, this is an issue for a jury. Meanwhile, if past court papers are any indication, Big Ticket will argue that compensation for a show's talent is at the discretion of producers. Almost needless to say, the eventual decision could become quite meaningful for others in entertainment.