There are a gazillion TV judges pontificating across the dial, but Judge David Young will be the first openly gay one when his show premieres today. So why does that matter?
On a serious level - and the judge does have spasms of somberness in between fits of song and funny riffs praising the joys of being professionally dressed - the 48-year-old former Miami prosecutor and judge hopes to be a role model for gay youth. He said he wished he could have seen a successful gay jurist on TV before he came out at the age of 34.
Instead, his epiphany occurred while he was sitting on a beach, reading "Coming Out Conservative," the memoir of longtime Republican fundraiser and activist Marvin Liebman, who announced he was gay at 67. "I read that and I felt, 'This could be me,' " Young said, foreseeing a lifetime of loneliness. "I just started crying and said, 'I don't want my life to be like that.' "
So while Akim Anastopoulo, a.k.a. "Extreme Akim," the celebrity judge of the syndicated "Eye for an Eye" courtroom TV show, wields a baseball bat from the bench to symbolize his blunt judicial philosophy, Young plans to swing a more subtle sort of weapon on his show: compassion - leavened with a show tune or two and a booty-shaking dance with his bailiff, Tawya Young (no relation). The two vamp through the show together like "Weight Watchers peanut butter and jelly," Young said. "I'll look at her, and she'll look at me and we'll go, 'Mmm-hmmm. Girlfriend.' " "If I were straight, I'd marry her," Young says on a promotional spot for the show.
It's hardly the vibe to promise raw vengeance for the show's plaintiffs. Instead, Young is moved by those in the throes of addiction, or who have been discriminated against.
He still feels the death a dozen years ago of a cousin he grew up with. Young knew his cousin had a drinking problem from the time he got smashed at a family seder when he was 8 years old. Young saw the pain his cousin's life - and death - caused his uncle and aunt and family, and wanted to spare others that trauma.
Requiring addicts to regularly appear before a judge, Young said, increases the chances that they will move toward sobriety. He has learned much from his partner of 12 years, Judge Scott Bernstein, who often works with Florida families gripped by drug addiction.
"We must take personal responsibility, but sometimes you need a kick in the rear end to do that," Young said.
"I'm addicted to food. I'm in Weight Watchers, and I know I've got a weight problem," said Young, who says he has always been "chunky" but has lost 35 pounds since January 2006. "I speak from experience. What makes this show different from all the other shows is that this is going to be a show filled with compassion.
"It's not going to be yelling for yelling's sake. I think we all know that when someone yells at you, you turn them off. You don't listen to what they say. The intent of this show is to listen and to learn."
Listening and learning have not traditionally been part of the recipe for TV courtroom shows, those islands of idiocy in the shallow of end of the media gene pool. Exhibit A: Former O.J. Simpson neighbor Kato Kaelin hosts "Eye for an Eye."
Twice during a recent conversation, Young repeated that he intends to listen to those in his TV courtroom twice as much as he talks.
So why would Young, son of an ex-Florida bar president, a former clerk for famed defense attorney F. Lee Bailey and a prosecutor under former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno ("one of the most magnificent people I have ever met") want to be a TV judge? Isn't that considered slumming it in the long-robed world?
"This is going to give me a chance to meet and influence people around the country," Young said. "My role is to point out the bad behavior. If I can get the viewer not to repeat the bad behavior, OK."
Being openly gay gives him a different sensitivity.
"The law is the law," Young said. "But I think (my homosexuality) adds because I am very sensitive to the issue of discrimination, if people are motivated by bias," he said.
In one episode of his show, a biracial lesbian couple are evicted from their home. When their landlord appeared in court, Young smelled a bigot. So he asked: "Isn't the whole issue whether you're a bigot?"
Young recalled that the landlord replied, "I'm not a bigot. Some of my best friends are black."
"Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! The racist meter went off," Young said. "He is a bigot. Once you're a bigot about one thing, you're probably homophobic as well." Sure enough, Young said the landlord "did make some pretty nasty homophobic comments."
"Reprimand (him)? Yes," Young said. "But try to let him understand the error of his ways, because we want him to change. People are capable of changing. And if I can change one person, then I have done a very good thing."
To get to that transformational place, the judge isn't above breaking into song. Like when an electrician named Sparky appeared in court with a customer who was unsatisfied with the job Sparky did. Still, the customer agreed during the hearing to hire him back. Sparky didn't understand why.
Young explained, to the tune of Dionne Warwick's "Alfie":
"What's it all aboooooooooout, Spar-keeeeeeeeeeey? He gave you a second chance because he liked your wooooooooorrrrrrrk."
After shooting a couple of months worth of shows in New York, Young has realized that the job description for a TV judge is quite expansive. In the non-TV world, judges are not overly vocal participants in the proceedings.
"But in TV land," he said, the judge is the lawyer, the narrator and the jury. "You have to tell a story so the viewers get engaged in the scenario."
And there are definite perks.
"When I was in court in Miami, I never got my hair done or my makeup done or dressed by a professional dresser," Young said, the realization inspiring him to again break into song. "This is faaaab-u-louuuuuuuuuuuuuuus!"
From his official show website:
Judge David Young is a huge fan of Broadway musicals, and is an avid collector of penguin items. Young lives in Miami with his partner of 12 years, Judge Scott Bernstein, and their dog Maggie.
And the slogan for the show: "JUSTICE WITH A SNAP!" Oh brother!
Would you like to be a guest on the Judge David Young Show?
* HELP ME SETTLE MY LEGAL DISPUTE WITH A FAMILY MEMBER!
* HELP ME SETTLE MY LEGAL DISPUTE WITH A FRIEND, NEIGHBOR OR RELATIVE
* MY FAMILY MEMBER GAVE ME MONEY & I WON'T PAY IT BACK!
* MY FAMILY & I CAN'T STOP FIGHTING OVER A WILL!
* YOU NEED TO PAY FOR RUINING MY WEDDING OR FAMILY GATHERING!
* YOU NEED TO PAY FOR RUINING MY VACATION OR HONEYMOON!
* I WANT MY EX-FIANCE TO PAY FOR OUR CANCELLED WEDDING!
* I'M FIGHTING WITH MY EX'S FAMILY OVER MONEY OR PROPERTY!
* MY EX REFUSES TO RETURN MY MONEY OR BELONGINGS!
* Are you involved in a legal dispute with someone, or want to file a small claims case against someone? If you want your legal dispute heard, you could be a guest.
What no drag queen knockdowns?? No domestic partner issues??