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Judge Judy’s “Hot Bench”: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts

By Randall Kenneth Jones
Originally published in the Naples Daily News

Without question, we are a society of rules and regulations.

Whether we refer to them as directives, decrees, acts, edicts or laws, these principles allegedly spring from the goal of applying an agreed-upon behavioral structure to our comings and goings as well as our actions and reactions—all for the benefit of the greater good.

Judge Judy SheindlinWhen Judge Judy Sheindlin traveled to Ireland in 2013, she discovered a unique Irish spin on applying the law of the land. The President of the High Court may decide that any cause or matter—or any part thereof—may be heard by three judges.

Sheindlin subsequently found herself with three reasons to create a new court program—one that would showcase the legal process in a brand new collaborative light.

Three Judges. Three Opinions. One Verdict.

Co-produced by Sheindlin’s Queen Bee Productions and CBS Television Distribution, “Hot Bench” premiered in September 2014 and featured a trio of thought-provoking judges: Judge Patricia DiMango and attorneys Tanya Acker and Larry Bakman.

The term “hot bench” is used to describe a court where a bit of brouhaha often accompanies frequent interruptions from a judge—or, in this case, judges. This same judicial ruckus is also the likely reason for “Hot Bench’s” rapid rise in ratings.

Of course, beginning with early childhood, we are taught to “share,” “play nice” and “follow the rules.” As the basic tenets of the law are introduced at an early age, let’s travel back to childhood and explore DiMango, Acker and Bakman’s wide-ranging backgrounds in terms of the roles they might have played in the legal aftermath of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.”

Bakman would likely have been cast as the District Attorney leading the prosecution of Goldilocks on criminal charges of felony breaking-and-entering.

DiMango could have assumed the role of presiding judge in the small claims court action for trespass and vandalism brought against the trio of interloping bears by their ill-tempered neighbor.

Acker might have filed a $100 million products liability class action on behalf of Goldilocks and other plaintiffs against the porridge manufacturer. Their failure to provide a warning label about the dangers of “too hot” gruel had recklessly and negligently caused irreparable damage to Goldilocks’ taste buds.

Nevertheless, to the “Hot Bench” judges, the legal process is far from child’s play. In fact, Acker suggests: “You don’t always need to be in court if you act like a grown-up.”

True, the legal profession is often accused of lacking both rhyme and reason. In notable contrast, Judges DiMango, Acker and Bakman have quickly become a well-oiled, collaborative and yes, highly reasonable machine—one with a mission succinctly stated by Bakman: “We want to make the best product out there.”

Of course, for this to happen, the televised whole must be greater than the sum of its parts.

“We listen to each other with an open mind. We respect each other’s intellectual abilities and embrace our differences,” says DiMango of the three-judge panel. “Each of us comes in with a different perspective. These differences also reinforce the mantra we have been told from the beginning: be yourself.”

Acker offers another benefit to their diverse resumes: “We have different legal backgrounds. As a consequence, we tend to cover all the bases.”

For his part, Bakman points to the delicate decision-making balance that is based on “the interaction between credibility and burden of proof”—a situation not uncommon inside any number of courtrooms and board rooms.

There’s also no better example of the transfer of “respect” into “collaboration” than when the judges retire to deliberate.

Though the litigants do not witness the debate, the viewing public does. In Acker’s view, “It’s invaluable for people to see how legal professionals come to their decisions.” With their talent for fact-finding, listening and compromise, some might also suggest that Washington take note.

DiMango adds: “The most interesting part is what each of us has placed our emphasis on—what we have taken from the courtroom and into deliberation.”

As he often does on the show, Bakman summarizes: “We love it when we can educate the viewer with our ability to teach and explain.”

The lessons to be learned also apply across a wide spectrum of legal, business and even lifestyle scenarios. For example:

Hot Bench: Tanya Acker, Patricia DiMango, Larry BakmanDiMango on Listening: “You cannot lose a word. That one word can change an entire sentence and that sentence can change an entire verdict. Every word has meaning. You have to hear what people don’t say as well.”

Bakman on Believability: “Credibility is always an issue for me. I will judge the plaintiffs in terms of their demeanor, how sharp they are with the facts and whether they met their burden of proof.”

Acker on Accountability: “People need to take responsibility for what they do. Too often the legal system is used or abused for people trying to skirt their way out of an obligation.”

With their skill at demonstrating the thoughtful thought processes behind legal decision making—DiMango, Acker, Bakman and, their mentor, Sheindlin, have brought an increased focus on value and values to daytime television.

It’s all about professionalism and respect—subjects that often seem like the journalistic equivalent of “beating a dead horse;” yet, we editorial do-gooders continue to plead our cases and hope for the best.

Thankfully, DiMango, Acker and Bakman represent proof that the aforementioned horse won’t actually die without putting up a fight. Why? “Hot Bench” upholds the notion that respect, collaboration and staying true to oneself are not mutually-exclusive concepts.

What’s more, our tenacious trio of adjudicators are pretty darn likely to expose who tried to kill the poor horse in the first place.

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Marketer, publicist, business humoristprofessional-courtesy advocate, branded-content writer, creative-development consultant, and entertaining motivational speaker Randall Kenneth Jones is the creator of RediscoverCourtesy.org and the president of MindZoo, a marketing communications firm in Naples, Florida. 

Special thanks to Virginia attorney Robert Schmitt for his assistance with this article.

Photos: TOP — Tanya Acker, Patricia DiMango, Larry Bakman, courtesy photo, Photo 2 — Judge Judy Sheindlin, courtesy photo, Photo 3 — Tanya Acker, Patricia DiMango, Larry Bakman, courtesy photo, BOTTOM — Randall Kenneth Jones.