Judge David Young is unlike any other TV judge you’ve likely seen before.
In a video marketplace with courts of every color and gender and with their focuses ranging from petty crimes and divorce to Texas justice, the Judge David Young show has a gimmick that’s no gimmick.
Yep, he’s gay.
BOB ANDELMAN/Mr. MEDIA: Judge, there’s out and then there’s in-your-living-room-five-nights-a-week out. How did you join the ranks of dispensers of video justice?
JUDGE DAVID YOUNG: Well, it’s very interesting. I was in my judicial chambers in Miami/Dade County, and I got an email from Sony Television asking me if I would like to talk to them about starring in a television show. And at first, I thought it was one of those emails that you get from Nigeria. I didn’t think it was real. And after I spoke to them, it was indeed real, and it’s been an amazing story actually. I’m just absolutely thrilled that I was able to do this.
ANDELMAN: It didn’t come entirely out of the blue. They had seen you, I guess, either in the news or in the flesh.
YOUNG: For me, it came out of the blue. Unbeknownst to me, Sony was looking for another judge to add to their “Supreme Court.” And they looked around, and they went to Court TV, one of their sources, because they figured they know all the good judges cause they cover these trials. I happen to have been the judge on the America West pilots, who were two guys that were flying an airplane impaired, six months after 9/11. And they said, “There’s this judge in Miami named David Young. Check him out,” and they obviously checked me out. They sent me the email. Then I called them. Then they flew me to New York. Then they flew me to California then back to New York. They went through the casting, and eighteen months later, you have “The Judge David Young Show.”
ANDELMAN: I remember that case, and people were quite alarmed by that case that these pilots were flying, as you put it, impaired. That seems like a kind way to put it. Was there anything in that case while you were handling it that stood out for you that made you think that it was different or that it got people’s attention any differently than any other case?
YOUNG: I knew from the get-go that the national media was going to cover the case because they made an inquiry to our public information director at the court, and I was going to make sure that I handled the case in a certain manner that would make people proud of the justice system. Far too often, on these big, high-profile trials, you have judges or lawyers or the whole scene cause a bad taste in people’s mouth about the justice system, and I was going to be gosh-darned if that was going to happen in my courtroom.
ANDELMAN: I’m in Florida. I’ve lived here for a long time. You came out of Florida. We both know that it gets more than its share of unusual court cases. Did that help you?
YOUNG: It’s funny. I’ve been asked several times, “How come you have three judges from South Florida on national television?” And I say it’s because we’re so culturally diverse in this community, and everything happens in South Florida, from Anna Nicole Smith dying to drunk pilots to Elian Gonzalez. We have this other case going on. It’s just exciting. They are people here with passion. And if you’re going to survive in this community, you have to have a certain umph, I guess, is the best way to put it, and I guess it just breeds us. I don’t know. It’s very exciting. Listen, I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else than South Florida because it is very exciting, and it’s very stimulating, and the people are just wonderful.
ANDELMAN: I seem to recall that during the Anna Nicole Smith case, and you probably know this better than I, that the judge who was handling a lot of that who got a lot of TV time, even during the course of the case, there was talk about him becoming a TV judge.
YOUNG: There was talk about it, but I don’t think anything’s going to come of that.
ANDELMAN: I wondered about that.
YOUNG: He’s still under criminal investigation.
ANDELMAN: Oh, I didn’t know that.
YOUNG: You didn’t know that? Yes, the state attorney’s office has reported in the Miami Herald and is investigating him for accepting bribes. According to the allegations, he told a lawyer, “My wife’s birthday is tomorrow, and I appoint you to a lot of cases, and there’s this great Louis Vuitton purse at Neiman-Marcus that she’d love to have and make sure it’s wrapped pretty.”
ANDELMAN: I missed that story. Wow.
YOUNG: For Larry Seidlin’s sake, I hope it’s not true, but the state attorney’s office is investigating. We’ll see what happens.
ANDELMAN: Let’s stay focused on Florida for a minute. Well, you mention the state attorney’s office. You came out of that office, didn’t you?
YOUNG: I did. I worked under Janet Reno for almost four wonderful years.
ANDELMAN: I have to ask: What was that like?
YOUNG: She is an amazing person. I was just with Janet last Friday night actually, and I said to her, “Every interview that I give, they’re so inquisitive about you, and you’re still so well regarded by so many different people.” What you see with Janet is what she is. She’s incredibly honest. She’s incredibly committed to seeking justice, and she’s also very loyal to her employees. Really truly indicative of Janet’s character, a story that I tell is one of our young prosecutors, who didn’t have any family here in Miami, in the middle of the night, got struck by something. I think she had appendicitis. Yeah, it was appendicitis, and she was rushed to the hospital. She told somebody to contact Janet Reno. Well, within ten minutes, Janet was at the hospital taking care of things. That’s just the way that Janet was. As a boss, she knew everybody’s names. She knew everybody’s life story, and she was very actively involved, and she was very protective of her people. You couldn’t ask for a better boss.
ANDELMAN: Is there anything that you carry forth from your experience with her, judicially, in terms of the way you handle people or cases?
YOUNG: Sure. One of Janet’s mantras, the terms “strength and courage,” which translated means always do the right thing and don’t be afraid of the consequences if you believe what you’re doing is right. Have the strength of your convictions. And her low-key style, her deliberate style, her ability to listen to people and really be concerned about people’s welfare. She’s one of my role models.
ANDELMAN: Janet Reno’s not the only major figure in Florida law establishment in your background. Your own dad, Burt Young, was past-president of the Florida Bar Association.
YOUNG: Yes. He was the first Jewish president of the Florida Bar back in the seventies. And the amount of anti-Semitism that he and mom both had to overcome within the membership of the Florida Bar establishment was astounding. You’d think that lawyers would rise above homophobia, anti-Semitism, racism, but they’re like everybody else. Dad had a really hard time in the beginning in 1970 when he took over the presidency, but slowly but surely, through hard work and dedication, and people saw that “Hey, Jews don’t have horns. Hey, Burton’s done all these great things to enhance the legal profession in the state of Florida. I guess we need to treat him like everybody else.” Gee, what a novel lesson that is.
ANDELMAN: You say that your dad dealt with anti-Semitism. How concerned was he for you following in his footsteps in the law and then having to deal with anti-gay attitudes and that kind of thing? That must’ve been tough.
YOUNG: My father and I, our personalities are very different, and he is very loyal. He’s a very loving father. I’m very, very lucky, and I have a very loving mother. When I came out, there was never any issue. They love me unconditionally. You wish most parents would love their children unconditionally, but unfortunately, we don’t see that a lot. We see a lot of misconceptions about gay and lesbian, and their parents think something, and they end up throwing them out of the house, and then they end up homeless on the streets, and then a lot of them end up committing suicide. One of the reasons I am out and one of the reasons I am vocal about it is I’d like to see myself as a role model for other young gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals who are just coming to terms with their sexual orientation. To say hey, listen, if you want to be a judge, you can be a judge. If you want to be President of the United States, well, maybe not that far, but you can at least achieve your goals. And your sexual orientation should not prohibit you from achieving your goals cause that’s not what America’s all about. Hey, look, in Miami, we have people who came over here 30 years ago with nothing. They didn’t speak the language. All they had was a group of members of the Catholic Church who took them in and nourished them and acted as surrogate parents until their parents came over. And now they are the ones who are running Miami/Dade County. They’re the bankers. They’re the lawyers. They’re the mayors. There’s the United States Senator. So anything is possible. One’s sexual orientation should not prohibit that individual from striving to be the best that they can be.
ANDELMAN: You made reference to when you came out to your parents. A lot of times parents have one of two reactions. One, of course we know this one, they’re shocked, and they’re in denial. And then there’s the other reaction where they’re like I knew. Tell me something I didn’t know.
ANDELMAN: Which did you get from your parents?
YOUNG: Mom didn’t comment either way that she knew or she was shocked. She loves me, and that’s all there is to it. Dad was shocked.
YOUNG: It’s funny. He didn’t see it coming at all.
ANDELMAN: How old were you when you came out to them?
YOUNG: I was on the older side. I was 33, 34.
ANDELMAN: Wow. And dad didn’t see any sign at that point, huh?
YOUNG: None. As I say, my core of denial is not a river in Egypt, and it does not flow through this courtroom. Well, denial is a river in Egypt, and it was flowing through my parents’ house.
ANDELMAN: That is something I’ve heard you say a few times. And how does your dad feel about your career path now, the television?
YOUNG: Ever since I was three years old, I knew I wanted to be a lawyer. Ever since I was a teenager, I knew I wanted to practice criminal law cause I was influenced by Richard Gerstein, a former Dade County state attorney, Richard E. Gerstein. And I just love criminal law, and dad is a family lawyer. And I can be a little bit of a yenta, I understand that, but I just wasn’t into all the bickering and fighting and things that family lawyers do. I just really love the criminal end of it. Defending one’s constitutional rights, to me, is fascinating, and that doesn’t necessarily mean the defendant’s constitutional rights but the constitutional rights of the victims as well. It was just a natural progression that I merged into criminal law. Dad thought, I guess really in his mind, that I would be his law partner one day and then be president of the bar like he was. Well, it didn’t exactly happen because we had a judicial scandal here in 1990, early nineties, where we had judges who were taking bribes from lawyers to get cases fixed or to release the name of a confidential informant. Or they were putting pressure on lawyers to get part of their fee for appointment of cases. It really rocked the judiciary to its core down here, and a bunch of us young turks ran in 1992 to reform the system. There was a whole massive turnover in the judiciary, and there were a lot of young people who got elected. And I was only 33 when I got elected to a judgeship here in Miami, and we made a difference. We are the activists. We are the ones that are making differences in people’s lives. We’re the ones that were involved in therapudic of jurisprudence, the program, the drug programs, the alcohol programs, dealing with domestic violence, all the progressions in the law throughout the country. A lot of it started here in Miami with the young turks, as we called ourselves. My life has always been about public service, and dad was just thrilled when I became a judge. He loved having a son, the judge. He loved having to stand up in a room when I walked in.
ANDELMAN: What about on TV? How does he feel about you doing it on TV?
YOUNG: He never thought, I never thought…I never even fantasized about being one of those TV judges. I may fantasize about being on a Broadway show but never being on TV. I might fantasize about having the body of a Brad Pitt, but that’ll never happen either. I don’t have that genetic makeup. So when this whole thing happened, he’s been up to New York. He has me Googled. He knows everything that’s going on. He was able to act as, and he always does, as my legal advisor on all major matters and a parental advisor. He’s pretty good about separating the two. It’s been a very exciting time.
And my mom, she likes to put everything in frames. I’m convinced that, if I stand still for five minutes, she’d put me in a frame. She does decoupage. She decoupages all these frames. So she has all the stuff all over the house. She has her grandchildren and her son. My poor sister, there are no pictures of her in the house, but that’s okay. She gave them the grandchildren so she has equal time that way.
ANDELMAN: I was just thinking about something you said a moment ago. You came out to your parents at 33. Was it coincidental that that was the year you were elected to the judgeship?
YOUNG: I came out I was closer to 34.
YOUNG: No, it wasn’t coincidental. I read a book actually, and it was about this guy who was a founder of the Conservative movement in the United States, Marvin Liebman. And he was 70 years old, and he never found love. And a lot of people put so much effort into their careers that they forget that there’s another part of life, and that’s a personal, private life where we’re supposed to find happiness and contentment. And one without the other is not really making for a whole person. And I said to myself after reading this book, “I don’t want to be like this man. I don’t want to have to turn 70 years old and face the truth of what I am, what I was born as.” So I said now is the time.
ANDELMAN: Was there then or has there been, especially now that you’re on TV, was there any hesitation in living your personal and professional life so large?
YOUNG: No because I’ve always been out. I’ve always been an open person. I’ve always been in the public eye whether it’s locally — now it’s nationally — and I love it. I think I’m making a difference. That’s why I enjoy it, and if I can spread some words of encouragement to not only gays and lesbians but to people in general. If I can make people’s lives better, that’s what I’m all about. That’s what I enjoy doing, improving the quality of people’s lives. If my sexual orientation is going to be a part in it, wonderful.
ANDELMAN: I have to ask you this. It’s not really a fair question cause I don’t know that I would ask it of a heterosexual, but does homosexuality affect who you are in court?
YOUNG: The only way it affects who I am is I dress better than the straight judges.
ANDELMAN: And that’s in your eyes?
YOUNG: Oh, trust me. I have a degree in that, by the way. I have a J.D. degree and a shopping degree.
YOUNG: I could master it, a Ph.D.
ANDELMAN: Oh, man. And now your partner of more than a decade is also a judge.
YOUNG: Yes, he is.
ANDELMAN: So I have to ask you. Whose rulings are final at home?
YOUNG: According to Scott, his philosophy for a successful relationship — and he’s now in family court– two words: “Yes, dear.” So, “Yes, dear, whatever you say. Do whatever makes you happy.” Then I do what I want to do anyway.
ANDELMAN: I got it. And do the litigants, particularly on television, do they view and treat you any differently? Has your sexual orientation ever been an issue in court, whether on TV or…
YOUNG: It never has been an issue on TV. What they’re thinking in the back of their heads, I really don’t care because they don’t normally express it. There was a blog that I read where somebody called me a “flamer,” somebody who I sided against, but that’s their own internal homophobia that I really hope they can deal with one day, and they come to terms with cause they’re not going to be totally happy unless they get rid of all the negativism that’s permeating their soul.
I’ve had only one incident when I was a judge in Miami where it was a hate crime, basically, but that was before we had hate crime legislation. And the public defender came up to me and said to me, “Judge, this beating occurred right outside of a gay bar, Twist. Can you be fair?” And I looked at him, it was sidebar, and I said, “Greg, if I was an African-American and it was an African-American hate crime, would you ask me that question? If it was a rape case, and I was a woman, would you ask me that question? We’re both Jewish. If this hate crime was an anti-semitic hate crime, would you ask me that question? I suspect the answer to all that would be no, so why are you asking me about this issue?” And he was sweating profusely. I remember that. And his voice was cracking, and he apologized and went back to the table.
ANDELMAN: You’re probably not surprised at the questions, though, because it’s still something that a lot of people are getting used to. It’s still something fairly new – the idea to have an outwardly gay judge. There was a time where we were getting used to women as judges or women as CEOs. It just seems to be a rite of passage for society.
YOUNG: Oh, sure. The way it was done, it was done in a very professional manner, and the client has a right to know. If I was a defense lawyer, I’d ask the judge the same question, and I would have done it the same way. But I would expect a judge to give the same answer.
ANDELMAN: Are you more comfortable being somewhat flamboyant in a television courtroom rather than in Miami/Dade?
YOUNG: Well, in Miami-Dade — and being from Florida, I’m sure you can appreciate this — we have a judicial qualifications commission which I served on for three years. There’s a certain amount of decorum that judges must operate under, certain judicial canons which we cannot violate. And if you do, you could get removed from the bench, if you’re disrespectful, if you have ex partite communications, if you lie, you cheat, do whatever. And in a TV setting, you don’t have that. All these cases are binding arbitration. And I do what I can to make the point, but I try to make the point without yelling and screaming because it ultimately does a lot for the viewership. I don’t think that the viewers or the litigants themselves learn when you yell at them or you scream at them. So I sometimes break into show tunes. Now did I do that on the bench in Miami? Maybe once or twice I might but not on a regular basis.
ANDELMAN: You had someone sing, though, when you were on the bench in Miami. Isn’t that right? You had someone…
YOUNG: I had an opera…yeah.
YOUNG: Now that’s an interesting story, and that really sums up my judicial personality, my judicial philosophy. Here was a woman that came into court who was charged with disrupting a condominium meeting. She was in her eighties. When she walked into court, I noticed that she had a tattoo on her forearm, and they were numbers so I knew she was a concentration camp survivor. So I inquired about her. I said tell me about your experiences during World War II. And she said that her whole family was gathered up by the Nazis, and they were put into concentration camps. And they all died, her mother, her father, and all of her sisters and brothers all died. And the way she survived was by singing opera for the generals and the commanders of the Third Reich. And she’s crying, and she’s telling me the story. And I figured, the government has done enough harm in this woman’s life to last a lifetime. I need to help restore this woman’s confidence not only in the United States but in the judiciary in the United States. And I said, “What happened here is not the worst thing in the world. Supposing you give me a sampling of your operatic talent, I’d love to hear you.” She said, “I’m too nervous. I can’t sing.” I said, “Ma’am, you sang for the worst of the worst, the hierarchy of the Third Reich, of course you can sing something for me.” She goes, “Well, maybe I can.” I said, “Would you please sing for me? I really would appreciate it.” And she sang, and it was beautiful. So I dismissed the case, and she left with a smile on her face and a belief that the system really does work, that people do care about her. So that’s the whole story behind why I had the woman singing opera.
ANDELMAN: Very interesting. On the show, do the producers seek out cases that match in any way or challenge your lifestyle, or is it just incidental when it happens?
YOUNG: I think we’ve only had one or two, it was two, homosexual-related cases. One was a gay hip-hop group, and one was a lesbian couple. So, no, they haven’t done that. They pick cases which will shine, and all the judge shows do shine and bring out the judges’ personality, only the judges that have personality.
ANDELMAN: We were talking a minute ago about show tunes. You actually use humor quite a bit in your courtroom.
YOUNG: Yes, I do. I use humor more than show tunes cause sometimes I can’t remember the words to the song. La-la-la-la… That doesn’t cut it.
ANDELMAN: Do the producers ever have to reign you in on that in terms of we’ll have to pay for that?
YOUNG: I know nothing about that. If they do, they do. They haven’t told me not to sing.
ANDELMAN: Oh, okay. I guess it’s probably worth it to them for the response. What does make a good case for your show?
YOUNG: Active litigants. I think when you have individuals who are truly passionate then it brings out the best in everybody, and I enjoy people with passion. I think people with passion are fascinating to be around. That’s why I love Miami, because you have so many people here with passion that it’s contagious. It really is.
ANDELMAN: I’ve always wondered when I watch a show like this if you have cases that you start taping and then you have to stop, and they don’t work out, if that ever happens.
YOUNG: No. That’s not true. There was only one case that I started that I just couldn’t finish cause there was a language problem.
YOUNG: You couldn’t understand the person. Otherwise, I’m pretty good at talking with anyone, and I haven’t had a problem.
ANDELMAN: Now, your bailiff. Is it Tawya?
ANDELMAN: Tawya. I’m sorry. Tawya Young. She’s out of Brooklyn. She’s got a little bit of spunk there too, doesn’t she?
YOUNG: She’s amazing. I spoke to her last night, as a matter of fact. She called to say hello. When we first met, there was instant chemistry, and she knows what I’m thinking. I know what she’s thinking. She’ll give me a look. I’ll give her a look. And it’s just part of the show. She’s my Costello, and I’m her Elvis. I’m Jackie, and she’s Norton. It’s just a great team.
ANDELMAN: The bailiff is an important part of these shows.
YOUNG: If it’s going to be a really entertaining show as well as educational, you need to have some good chemistry. I’m Fred, and she’s Ginger, but I could be Ginger, and she could be Fred.
ANDELMAN: How has your life changed since the show became syndicated this fall?
YOUNG: It hasn’t changed that much. In Miami, I’m very well known since I was born and raised here in Miami, and so it’s not unusual for me to be recognized places cause I know a lot of people. As a matter of fact, I was in Circuit City buying a fax machine yesterday, and somebody came up to me and said, “Hi, Judge Young, how are you?” It ended up he used to be a defendant in my courtroom. He said, “You’re just the same in court as you are on TV.” And I’ve run into defendants of mine. And I remember I was at Best Buy buying something years ago, and I ran into one of my defendants there who thanked me for saving his life.
Mr. Media, if you treat people respectfully, if you show you really are concerned about them, you really have nothing to be afraid about when you see people out on the streets. You really don’t. And if you like people as much as I like people, and I like to learn from people, it’s a wonderful thing. You get to meet so many incredible people. I was in D.C. buying a suit, as a matter of fact — shopping is my Ph.D. — at Filene’s Bargain Basement, which they had a really good deal, by the way. I was very excited about that. Several of the people there knew who I was and wanted my autograph, which that’s one that kind of just amazes me. And I learned all about their lives and why they watch the show and what they do when they’re not working. And it’s just fascinating. It just really is fascinating, and I just love it.
ANDELMAN: Were you familiar with this genre of television before you became a part of it? Did you watch any of these shows?
YOUNG: I watched them all. It’s funny. I would watch them all, and one of my biggest beefs with most, if not all, of the judge shows is that they would not bring families together. They would yell. They would scream. They would belittle. I remember watching one show where you had these two sisters who just wanted to be brought back together as a family. And the judge kept egging them on and egging them on and just built this whole crescendo for conflict. And I said to myself, “Conflict is not what’s needed here. Resolution is what’s needed here. Family reconciliation is what’s needed here not the division of the family. No. Bring the family together.” And it was so ripe, and I just turned the show off, and that was just frustrating. The judge could’ve done a mitzvah, a good deed, and she didn’t do it.
ANDELMAN: It’s a very interesting combination: gay and Jewish and a judge.
YOUNG: Can you imagine the guilt? Oh my God.
ANDELMAN: Well, let’s test that guilt for a minute before you go. I was wondering if you might be willing to dish a little bit on some of your judicial counterparts in TV Land, starting with Judge Judy.
YOUNG: I would feel a little uncomfortable about doing that against any of my judicial counterparts.
YOUNG: I don’t think that’s appropriate.
ANDELMAN: The world will never know.
YOUNG: I will say that they all make a positive contribution. And I’ve watched every single one of them, and I’m not like any of them.
ANDELMAN: What about the big daddy of them all? Did you ever watch Judge Wapner in those days?
YOUNG: I’ve got a Judge Wapner story.
ANDELMAN: Oh, even better.
YOUNG: To answer your question, yes, I watched Judge Wapner. I was taking a deposition when I was a state attorney. I was out in California. And I was with this other lawyer, and we had to tape the deposition in the L.A. County state attorney’s office. And I’m walking in the hallway, and I see a sign that said “Joe Wapner, Jr.” And there was this young prosecutor at his desk reading. I’m looking at him. I’m looking at the sign, and I said, “Excuse me, is your father the TV judge?” And he said, “Yes.” He got kind of embarrassed. And I said, “I’m David Young from Miami. I’m a prosecutor with Miami/Dade County, and I’m taking depos. It’s nice to meet you.” We spoke for a few minutes, and he was very nice about it. And I just kept walking on my way.
ANDELMAN: Small world, isn’t it?
YOUNG: (Singing) Small world, isn’t it? Lucky, isn’t it? Yes.