Most lawyers want to win big cases. Some want to set legal precedents, or establish themselves as legislators. Others want to get rich and become celebrities, but they know full well that the profession often doesn’t lend itself to that, and most fail to climb that mountain.
Not Judy Sheindlin. The woman who eventually became known as Judge Judy has flipped the legal celebrity game completely upside down, although she definitely didn’t become a lawyer with that in mind.
So let’s trace her journey. Sheindlin really did chart a remarkable path to fame and fortune, and to many ordinary people, Judge Judy represents the face of the American justice system.
Sheindlin entered the legal profession in 1972, and got her start prosecuting child abuse cases, domestic violence and juvenile crime. For most lawyers that road leads to a dead end, but Sheindlin was able to earn a spot on the bench in 1982, and in 1986 she became a supervising judge.
She had a reputation for being tough and fair, and her media buzz started with a profile piece by the LA Times in 1993. That led to an appearance on “60 Minutes” and CBS quickly decided her unique approach to all things judicial was the perfect formula for a show.
Judge Judy’s Net Worth
“Judge Judy” premiered in 1996, and Sheindlin’s initial goal was to have a 3-4 year run that would help her and her husband pay the college bills for their five children and afford a few nice things along the way.
She did a lot better than that. Sheindlin’s down to earth approach and her understanding of the commoners who appeared before her allowed her to deliver common-sense, no-nonsense rulings that quickly made her a brand.
As of 2023, Judge Judy has a net worth of $440 million. According to Sheindlin, the key to her wealth was knowing her own worth as the centerpiece of the show. She knew CBS couldn’t do it without her, and Sheindlin was also aware of how unique she was compared to the legion of TV imitators who popped up after her success.
Her negotiations led to an annual salary of $47 million, with her per-episode earnings clocking in at just short of $400,000.
The final episode of Judge Judy aired in 2021, but that doesn’t mean Sheindlin is stepping down from the bench. It seems clear that her “retirement” wasn’t exactly voluntary, though. CBS repositioned her time slot in some rather unfriendly ways, and they were content to use the 25 years of reruns they have in the vault to generate revenue, minus her enormous salary.
Amazon, however, clearly saw dollar signs when they signed the 80-year old Sheindlin to do “Judy Justice” which will basically be a repackaged version of “Judge Judy” on the IMDb channel. Sheindlin’s take on all this has been simple and typical—“it’s not like I’m gonna become a ballet dancer.”
Her production team will remain mostly intact, but the show will go forward minus her famous bailiff, Petri Hawkins Byrd, who wasn’t given an opportunity to audition for the Amazon update.
Sheindlin has jokingly referred to her break with CBS as a “Bill and Melinda Gates divorce” but her own personal life has been remarkably stable. She married her second husband, Jerry, in 1977, but they have gone through some interesting turbulence together.
They nearly divorced in 1991, and after a short period of time apart, Judy basically forced her husband to remarry her. Jerry, a retired New York Supreme Court justice, quickly realized that life without the love of his life would be a very different existence indeed.
Sheindlin retains her sharp mind and sharper tongue, and her penchant for quips and insults remains unmatched. She’s been described as “the Jewish mother we all want” especially if mom happens to have Judge Judy’s bank account.