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86 Judicature 38 (2002-2003)
Should We Blame Judge Judy - The Messages TV Courtrooms Send Viewers

handle is hein.journals/judica86 and id is 38 raw text is: Should we blame
Judge Judy?
The messages TV courtrooms send viewers
A recent study suggests that while syndicated television courtrooms do,
indeed, teach the public about the justice system,
the content of this curriculum leaves much to be desired.
by Kimberlianne Podlas

n the last decade, syndicated tele-
vision courtrooms have crowded
the television docket. Despite
their popularity, however, their im-
pact on the viewing public's percep-
tions of the justice system and judges
is unclear: Do these television repre-
sentations educate citizens about
simple legal rules and encourage
jury service, or, in light of their trade-
mark verbally aggressive, sarcastic
assistant professor in the Department
of History and Social Sciences at
Bryant College.
judges, do they misrepresent the
proper role of 'judge and reduce re-
spect for the justice system?
To answer this question, a study of
241 individuals reporting for jury
duty was conducted. It investigated
the correlation between frequent
syndi-court viewing and attitudes
about the bench. Findings suggest
that syndi-court does, indeed, teach
the public about the justice system,

but that the content of this curricu-
lum leaves much to be desired.
For instance, frequent viewers tend
to believe that judges should be ac-
tive, ask questions during the pro-
ceedings, hold opinions regarding
the outcome, and make these opin-
ions known. Furthermore, unlike
non-viewers, frequent viewers ex-
pressed a desire to uncover clues to a
judge's opinion and interpreted judi-
cial silence as indicating belief in one
of the litigants.
Although the justice system rests
on the creation of and adherence to
legal rules and principles, its efficacy
depends on collective respect gener-
ated from public opinion.' Positive
opinions reinforce the validity of the
justice system, its actors and out-
comes, while negative ones under-
mine its credibility. Such opinions
are formed in many ways. Sometimes
citizens are influenced by personal
experiences as litigants or employees
of the court system. Other times in-
formation is gained through such
means as academic coursework. In
most instances, however, citizens do
not have intimate contacts with the

justice system; thus, media portrayals
of courts fill the void.2
Both legal scholars and behavioral
scientists have asserted that televising
trials educates the public by provid-
ing a frame of reference for what the
court system is, its fairness, and who
1. Selya, The Confidence Games: Public Perceptions
of the Judiciary, 30 NEw ENG. L. REv. 909, 909-10
(1996). Opinions about the fairness of the justice
system reflect its legitimacy: [A] decision con-
trary to the public sense of justice . . .
diminish[es] respect for the courts and for law
itself. Flood v. Kuhn, 407 U.S. 258, 293 n.4 (1972)
(Marshall dissenting).
2. Selya, supra n. 1, at 913; Harris, The Appear-
once of Justice: Court TV, Conventional Television,
and Public Understanding of the Criminal Justice
System, 35 ARIZ. L. REv. 785, 786, 798 (1993);
Slotnik, Television news and the Supreme Court: a
case study, 77JUDICATURE 21, 22 (1993) (majority
of public obtains only information about law
from television).
3. Selya, supra n. 1, at 913-14 (education of
public should include media); cf Roberts, An
Empirical And Normative Analysis of The Impact of
Televised Courtroom Proceedings, 51 SMU L. Rev.
621, 627 (1998) (prohibiting public from viewing
trials eliminates educational opportunity).
4. See e.g., Estes v. Texas, 381 U.S. 532 (1965)
(State asserting First Amendment right to view
trial); Richmond Newspapers, Inc. v. Virginia,
448 U.S. 555, 575 (1980) (Burger noting educa-
tive effect of televised proceedings on the public
and right of press and public to attend trial im-
plicit in First Amendment); Chandler v. Florida,
449 U.S. 560, 571 (1981) (State has interest, inde-
pendent of wishes of defendant, to view and tele-
vise trial).

38 Judicature Volume 86, Number I July-August 2002

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