August 2015 Bar Bulletin
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The Law on TV: Keeping It Real (or Not)


Recently, we had a patron who had been solicited by a television court program (a "Judge Judy" spinoff) to have his pending King County District Court civil case featured on the show. He was understandably confused about how they had found his information and what he should do next. We directed him to one of the legal clinics for advice.

This patron interaction came to mind when thinking about this month's theme of TV and how the public perception of the legal profession is shaped, for better or worse, by the portrayals of lawyers and judges on popular television programs. These views can be seen clearly in the much-anticipated update to the 2003 Civil Legal Needs Study that was unveiled at the Access to Justice Conference in June.

Some 1,375 low-income households (incomes up to 200% of the federal poverty level) across Washington participated in the study via mail, phone and the web. The study contained a number of concerning findings. For example, more than 41 percent of all respondents do not believe that people like them have the ability to use the courts to protect themselves and their families or to otherwise enforce important legal rights. Nearly 30 percent did not believe that people like them are treated fairly in the civil justice system. Read the complete study here:

A search of our catalog on "television" found a title from the American Bar Association called Lawyers in your living room!: Law on television, edited by Michael Asimow (call number: PN 1992.8 .J87 2009). The book is presented in seven parts covering topics such as "Foundation of Law on Television" and the "American Criminal Justice System" with discussion of individual shows such as "Perry Mason," "Matlock" and "Law and Order."

Of particular interest to me was Part VI, "Daytime Television Judges." It contains chapters with commentary on "Judge Judy" and a number of other "reality" judge shows. In Chapter 26, Judging "Judge Judy" author Nancy S. Marder notes, "Although the fast pace of these decisions and the over-the-top personality of Judge Judy might keep viewers focused on the television program day after day, her portrayal of a judge does a great disservice to actual judges and the way they perform their job."

Want to learn more? The Library maintains a collection of more than 240 DVDs that feature lawyers in a major or secondary role. Many of the television shows and movies referenced by Lawyers in your living room! are available for checkout by subscribers or viewing in the Library (bring a laptop with headphones as our public PCs do not have sound).

Additionally, the extensive footnotes throughout the book mention many law review articles that are available through the Library's subscription databases. Articles of interest include Kimberlianne Podlas, "Should we blame Judge Judy? The Messages TV Courtrooms Send Viewers," 86 Judicature 38 (July-August 2002) [available on HeinOnline], and Steven A. Kohm, "The People's Law versus Judge Judy Justice: Two Models of Law in America Reality-Based Courtroom TV," 40 Law & Soc'y Rev. 693 (2006) [available on WestlawNext and HeinOnline]. Read more about the Library's subscription databases here:


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