Monday, November 5, 2007
As a criminal court judge in Miami, I had to squelch my personal opinions for almost fifteen years. Sitting judges are never allowed to express themselves on the issues of the day.
We are not allowed to say anything which might be perceived as bias if that issue ever came before us in court. It's not that we don't have opinions; it's just that we can't say them out loud.
Judges have been kicked off the bench for violating these strict rules. It can be quite frustrating.
But lucky for me, my freedom of speech was essentially restored when I stepped down from the Miami bench to become a TV judge. When most Judges leave the bench, they are finally able to talk with friends and neighbors about current events. HA! Friends and neighbors are fine, but now I get to share my thoughts with the entire country. It is awesome. Simply awesome. For example, I cannot tell you how thrilled I was to be asked to comment on national news for the first time (on the FOX NEWS CHANNEL, no less!) about Paris Hilton's alleged million-dollar deal with NBC for her first post-jail interview.
Since my national news debut on FOX, I have been invited to serve as a legal commentator for TV, radio and in print. I have given my opinion on all kinds of mishaps involving today's pop culture icons, including Lindsay Lohan, Nicole Ritchie, Senator Larry Craig, Sean "P. Diddy" Combs, Kiefer Sutherland, O.J. Simpson, and of course Britney and Fed-X.
Although I don't exactly feel sorry for Senator Craig, my heart goes out to Britney and K-Fed's children. If I were the Judge presiding in that case, I think I just might have chance to do some good for their family. Their judge must take an aggressive, pro-active approach. That means making sure that Britney is in drug rehab (an in-patient program of the court's choosing, for several months in length, away from the media focus — and certainly not some cushy drug spa), and both Britney and Kevin should attend parenting counseling. Kevin should probably be required to submit to mandatory drug testing and attend NA meetings as well. Whatever the court's solution, I hope and pray for the welfare of those children. The parents are adults. Even if they feel (wrongfully) that as celebrities they are above the law, I suppose that's their choice. But these children made no such choice. They deserve to live in a nurturing, healthy home. I have seen how devastating it can be for children whose parents engage in drug addicted behavior. These children deserve better.
Being a TV judge is an indescribable privilege. If you had said 18 months ago, as I sat in my chambers in Miami, that I would be commenting publicly on celebrity justice and real issues of our time, I would have told you to stop partying so hard with Britney Spears. This road I'm on now is certainly unexpected, but I feel like one of the luckiest guys on the planet.
Monday, October 27, 2007
I had no idea there was so much involved in launching a show. Sony set up a big, multi-city promotional tour, and I couldn't wait to start. They scheduled a quick trip to Chicago as a warm-up.
My first morning show appearance was to be on a wonderful affiliate, WFLD. The station's vice president of promotion and programming, Dominic Mancuso, introduced me to the sales staff, all who seemed to be as excited to meet me as I was to meet them. When being interviewed on their news, the station's entertainment reporter asked me, "Judge Young, what do have to do to win a case in your courtroom?" Before I could answer, he started belting out "That's Entertainment!" in his best Ethel Merman impersonation. I cracked up. Is this what I have to look forward to at every stop on the tour?
As I was rushing through the airport on the next stop of the tour in San Diego, I was informed that Larry King wanted me on his show that night to discuss the Senator Craig scandal that had just broken. I'd need to go to a studio directly from the airport for a live satellite interview. Wow! What a GREAT beginning to my new career!
The euphoria was short lived, however, as the airline lost my luggage. I'm in jeans and I'm on national TV in two hours. PANIC!
Luckily, my partner Scott is great in a crisis. Before I knew what was happening, he was talking on my cell phone with the Sony publicist, telling her what to ask for from Nordstroms. She called ahead and Scott and I ran through the store in literally five minutes. He picked out a new outfit (waist up only) and we were back in the car on the way to do the studio. And I considered myself the shopper! I went on the show as scheduled, and it was great. Larry was so gracious and dedicated—how does he do this every day? David Theall, "Larry King Live's" producer, called afterwards to thank me, and I was thinking that I was one the one who should be calling thanking him!
The next afternoon we met with the GM from San Diego's XETV, Richard Doutre Jones and his team of truly dedicated salespeople. What a great operation Richard is running! I had a wonderful time on their morning show--commenting on Leona Helmsly's suddenly wealthy female dog (OK, maybe I didn't use the words female dog). I have to remember not to be so colorful on morning TV.
The next stop of the tour was San Francisco. I met the incredibly energetic and capable Akilah Monifa who works for CW 44. She did a remarkable job getting the San Francisco leg organized with tons of radio, several print interviews and an appearance on "Bay Area Focus with Susan Sikora." Later I had a chance to meet and thank all of the sales, programming and promotion people at the station, which I love to do because I know they work so hard.
Adding to the memorable San Francisco excursion was spending a sunny Labor Day afternoon at Dolores Park with our friends from www.crackle.com, a user-generated content website. Under the direction of executive producer Matt Labate, rising star comedian Jacob Sirof and I strolled around the park promoting "Judge David Young" and taping segments for "Judgment Day," a hilarious online show that can be seen on the site. Jacob and I got along great as we canvassed the park-goers, making snap judgments and seeing how correct our assessments really were. Some very interesting rulings came that day!
Having covered the entire park with an entourage of ten people and two cameras, the whole park knew who we were by the end of the afternoon!
The excitement I felt as the plane was landing for the next stop in LA was indescribable and the folks at the station put me at ease right away. It was such a pleasure to see Leslie Lyndon again (we first met at FPEC in Orlando in July) and two key promotion people for KTTV/KCOP, Kathleen Bracken and Marla Schulman, dropped in to take photos and say hello. Even John Frenzel, director of programming and publicity for the station stopped by.
Just before I went on their local news program, "Good Day LA" (great fun!) I met James Brolin and had my photo taken with Frankie Avalon. My mother was thrilled. Afterwards, Marla had me do some lively promo reads for the "digital lounge" section of the My13LA website, which was a hoot. [A sidebar note: James Brolin's wife's niece and I were friends in college at Tulane University. "Small World isn't it..."]
Afterwards, I was whisked off to be a celebrity clue reader on "Jeopardy." So cool. I walked on the set and asked if I could stand behind the podium where Ken Jennings (the all time champion from the show) stood.
The taping was done in the Wheel of Fortune Studios where I got to not only play Vanna White, but actually meet her too! I was in heaven.
Next up, Seattle; a magnificent city.
The impressive director of creative services for Q13/FOXMyQ2, Jamie McDowell, set up my appearance on their morning show, where I made a constructive comment about their traffic reporter's tie. It was hideous, but the people in the studio laughed and loved it. That night, I had dinner with the station's general manager, Pam Pearson and Natalie Grant, the regional program director for Tribune Television. We dined at a beautiful restaurant with a breathtaking view of Mount Rainier. Pam was born in Miami so we spoke about our hometown and we clicked immediately. What bright, fun, amazing people.
The final leg was the Big Apple. On launch day (September 10), I was beside myself with excitement. The first stop of the day was on FOX's morning show, "Good Day New York."
After getting to the studio and getting all made up to look good (I swear make-up people are magicians) I realized that in my excitement, I left the hotel room with the pants from one suit and the jacket from another. UGGHH. I DO NOT MATCH. There is NOTHING worse! I wanted to leave and go back to the hotel, but no time. Luckily the cameraman told me that he would not film my pants. The hosts, Jodi Applegate and Ron Corning were great (and even better looking in person!).
I have always been a fan of theirs and I just couldn't believe I was actually on their set in New York City talking about my new show.
The sad thing is that the tour had to end. I love to meet new people. I believe it's crucial to thank the people who have faith in me and my show. I will be eternally grateful for all their efforts.
Monday, October 1, 2007
I don't think the producers at SONY were quite ready for me. First they told me that the NATPE convention in Las Vegas would be the toughest two days of my life—boy were they wrong! Then they wanted to coach me on how to "work a room." Huh? Don't they remember that I ran for public office in Miami several times? I hit that convention running. SONY executives in my wake, they watched me cover the floor like nobody's business.
Then they said that getting ready for launch would be grueling. Again, I said, "huh?" This isn't work for me, it's fun. SONY set up a photo shoot. All I kept thinking was, is this is how Marky Mark got his start? Incidentally, we've got the same abs, but you'll have to take my word for it. I was a little shocked when I saw a huge green screen. Green has never been such a flattering color, but I was assured the green itself would never show— I breathed easier.
The shoot was fun. I loved playing up to the camera. A nice Jewish boy hamming it up. Per usual, I had a lot of energy that day and the photographers encouraged me to play around. But the real fun came when they asked me to do station IDs. In between takes, I would joke around and do adaptations of different songs for various markets. For an example—"nothing could be finer than to be on TV in North Caroliner ..." or changing the words to "New York, New York" to include MY9 and my show. I don't know if they will ever really see airtime, but it was lots of fun while I was doing it.
Next came publicity when I found myself thrust into the world of real news to be a legal commentator on a FOX cable news program. There's a first time for everything, so I headed into the studio to give it a whirl – fair, balanced or otherwise. In the makeup room I met a true sports legend—Billie Jean King. Can you imagine the two of us in the green room together at FOX?
When I got on set, it felt so right, so natural. Neil Cavuto, the host of the show, was warm and welcoming. We spoke on air about Paris Hilton and it was fun to give my opinions about paying for interviews. Then Neil asked me about my upcoming show. He wanted to know if the cases were real (they are) and he asked me if I ever cried in my courtroom "like that other Florida judge." I told him my courtroom was known, not for crying, but for hugs – I've been doing it for years. I frequently make litigants hug each other after I resolve their disputes. It releases tension and sometimes helps heal the emotions lurking underneath a legal problem. "So," I asked Neil, looking a little coy, "would you like a hug?" He was silent for a second and looked a little shocked. I heard the camera and lighting people in the studio start to laugh. I guess no one ever asked the host that question before. To his credit, Neil then responded, "Well, we are on cable, but not that kind of cable." He wrote me a wonderful thank you note the next day and invited me back on the show. Nice man.
Monday, September 24, 2007
My family wanted to throw a going away party just before I was leaving to start my new job in the Big Apple, but I really didn't want all the fuss. In the end though, I must confess I was happy they talked me into a having a celebration. The party was held the night before I left for New York to begin taping, and with over 100 people lifting their champagne glasses in my honor, I have to admit I was really touched.
I slept surprisingly well that last night before my "excellent adventure." I still live primarily in Miami and the commute to New York for taping only takes a few hours. The plane ride that first time, though, was a blur. I couldn't wait to tackle all the challenges I was about to face. A new life in a fabulous town--in fact (as Mama Rose belts out in "Gypsy"):
But then certain details began to creep into my consciousness. During the ride to my new second home, I panicked. What if I didn't like the apartment Sony chose? I breathed deeply, promised to keep an open mind and swore not to respond like a spoiled child. My momentary hysterics were not justified; the neighborhood was wonderful and the apartment was terrific. (O.K., so I did run out and buy fresh sheets and softer towels. But that's O.K. I can be responsible for my own thread count.)
The driver waited for me to put my luggage away and then took me to Sony's offices for a meeting. We were running a bit early, so what would you do? I had him drop me off at Bergdorf Goodman, where they were having a fabulous sale. I broke my own record for getting to a store upon landing in NYC. Sale, after all, is one of my favorite 4-letter words!!
After my meetings on Friday, Sony's publicist asked me if I wanted to be a guest commentator on CNN Headline News. Wow. My first day! That was daunting but exciting. Going into the studio I was a bit nervous, especially when I saw it was just me and a TV screen in the room. I needed some practice to get used to having a conversation on live TV with a box. Still, although I felt awkward at first, when the camera was on so was I.
They told me to be ready for pampering the next day. Now, I ask you, who wouldn't love a day of beauty and shopping (especially when you don't have to pay for a thing). It was a wonderful day. "I feel pretty....Oh so pretty...and witty...and ...." Did they write that with me in mind?
Sunday was Father's Day and I was a bit out of sorts not being with my father. What I needed was a quick pick-me-up. Nothing does that for me like Broadway. Let's go see a show! I got tickets to Legally Blonde, which was a fun show. What a perfect way to begin the best week of my life.
When I saw my set for the first time I choked up. It was like when you see the person you knew you would spend the rest of your life with. It felt perfect. I only wish Scott could have shared this moment with me. I knew I would feel like a million bucks when he saw the set firsthand. Plus the fact that he was coming to NY in a few days gave me some solace.
There is a lot of preparation that goes on before I take the bench. I get briefed by my lawyer and then by the producers. Jackie has the difficult job of putting on my make-up and fixing my hair ("I'm pretty, Mama Rose!") and Latoya picks out the outfits for each day of taping. The 3 of us bonded instantly.
I was also excited to be working with a new bailiff, Tawya Young. I call her my TV Wife. How they managed to find a Court Officer with the same last name, I'll never know. We hit it off immediately. She is as irreverent as I am and we both felt the chemistry right away. She is the best.
What a team. What a dream. I am so fortunate.
Monday, September 17, 2007
The hardest part about getting my own show is saying goodbye to my current life. I have been involved in the criminal justice system in Florida for more than 23 years, first as an Assistant State Attorney under Janet Reno, then as a private criminal defense attorney and finally as a Judge, and now I have to say goodbye.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Alvarez proclaimed my last day on the bench "Judge David Young Day" to honor my 15 years on the circuit court bench. My parents and family and friends were all invited to a ceremony with the Mayor. As usual, my parents were late. Seriously late. Like 90 minutes late. My father has many fine qualities. Punctuality and a sense of direction are sadly not on the list! The Mayor, a longtime friend, could not have been more gracious, though. We all had a good laugh, and their lateness (and not my award) made for a great story on the evening news.
In court, my last day on the bench was emotional and rewarding. A constant interruption of people kept stopping in to wish me well. The most meaningful well-wishers were the defendants who came in to say "thank you" and tell me they owed their life to me. Many of these people had been written off as life's failures, but working with the court system they had overcome their problems. It gave me more joy and more of a sense of accomplishment than anything I have ever done.
When I became a Judge in 1993, I wanted to leave the community better than when I found it. I truly feel I have, and this is exactly the impact I want to make with my new show.
Just as I left the building for the last time, the emotion finally got to me and I began to cry. Just then, the cell phone rang. It was my new assistant in New York calling to schedule a hair and wardrobe day in New York! Nothing cheers me up quicker than a day of grooming and shopping on the company's tab! New York, here I come!
Gray skies are gonna clear up, Put on a happy face! Brush off the clouds and cheer up, Put on a happy face!
Monday, September 10, 2007
I am still pinching myself to make sure this is happening.
My whole world changed when I got a random e-mail from Sony asking me if I would be interested in talking to them about a doing a television show. A million questions raced through my mind! They are kidding, right? Could I really get my own court show? My life partner, Scott Bernstein, is always the voice of reason. He finally got me to snap out of it with a simple question: Why I hadn't called Sony back already? What did I have to lose?
The next few weeks were a blur of calls, flights, and meetings where I met the fabulous Sony development team. I shot a pilot. The adrenaline was pumping as I walked onto a stage for the first time, but once I took my place on the bench, I felt like I was home. After all, I had been doing this for the past fourteen years in Miami. As a Circuit Court Judge for Miami Dade County, you don't get a second take, and you can never find a hair and make-up artist or a craft services table when you need one. Walking onto the set with the lights, cameras, and crew, I just focused on the case at hand. In the back of my mind, I was hearing the lyrics from GYPSY:
Someone tell me, when is it my turn? Don't I get a dream for myself??? This was my dream! This was my turn.
Being an elected judge, and really being involved in politics my whole life (Scott swears I ran for president of my "Mommy and Me" class), I can pretty much talk to anyone. At NATPE, Sony offered to coach me for the big schmooze, but I just smiled and nodded and thought to myself, "Wait 'til they see what I can do!" My new Sony family didn't truly grasp just how much I enjoy people until I hit the NATPE floor. One of the big shots told me after the conference that he had never seen anyone work a room as well as Donny Osmond, but that I gave Donny a good run for his money. I've always liked that Donny Osmond but that's a story for another time!
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