The Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism held a conversation with Judge Judith Sheindlin, the presiding judge on the Emmy Award-winning show Judge Judy, Monday afternoon. Willow Bay, the director of the Annenberg School, interviewed Sheindlin about her life and her time on the show, which is in its 20th season. Annenberg students also had the opportunity to ask her their own questions.
Before the conversation with Sheindlin, an overview video of Sheindlin’s career as Judge Judy played to a crowd of alumni, students, faculty and staff. It ended with a quote that has defined her career: “It’s your life, live it well.”
Throughout her interview, Sheindlin said she believed the country wants to work on eliminating gray areas in morality. According to Sheindlin, that is why the show still appeals to people, 20 years later.
“I think that there’s still a thirst in this country to get back to a place where right is right and wrong is wrong, and there are no fuzzy edges and there isn’t a lot of wiggle room for bad behavior,” Sheindlin said.
Sheindlin also relayed the importance of taking on responsibilities. She gave an example of a 15-year-old mother, who may be able to have kids but not be a good mother.
“You can’t be a great parent when you are 15 years old,” Sheindlin said. “Now you can have a baby when you are 15 years old — fish have babies, dogs have babies, cats have babies, lions have babies — but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are good parents.”
In her show, Sheindlin is known for settling family disputes and handing out harsh judgements when needed. Bay asked her if there was a line between her candor and cruelty, and Sheindlin responded with a “no,” primarily because of the way the entertainment industry has evolved.
“I think we’ve passed the point where we think that milquetoast-y kind of stuff entertains,” Sheindlin said. “It doesn’t.”
Bay asked Sheindlin about what skills had traveled with her throughout her professional career. Sheindlin believes that the most important skill that she had was the ability to get the right people to listen to her ideas.
“You have to have the leverage for wanting a better job, to be able to get the right people to listen to a good idea,” Sheindlin said. “Because there are lots of people who have really good ideas, but the truth of the matter is that unless you have the leverage, it’s clawing up a stream.”
She said that for people who are beginning their careers, it is important to focus on developing essential skills in order to become an essential member of the workplace.
“You have to make yourself indispensable,” Sheindlin said. “You don’t have to have a wildly successful television program to make yourself indispensable and you don’t even have to have a particularly unique skill.”
After giving advice to graduating students on how to negotiate on one’s own behalf, students had the chance to ask Sheindlin their own questions. One student asked why Sheindlin places so much importance on responsibility. Sheindlin responded in the context of her own experience in the family court system.
“In those cases [in the family court] I see the result of lack of responsibility,” Sheindlin said. “And lack of responsibility usually meant in all of those cases that children — innocents — suffered.”
Bay wrapped up her interview with a brief discussion on politics. Sheindlin commented on how people are becoming more politically involved.
“I think it’s been exciting from a communications perspective to see that more people have watched the debates than this time around than probably ever before,” Sheindlin said.