Judge Judy Runs a Court of Equity?

By | 2011/08/11

There’s a “Judge Judy” video clip being circulated where Judge Judy is deciding a case over unpaid rent. A young woman is the plaintiff, and is seeking several months of unpaid rent from a young man who shared an apartment with her. The young man is deeply confused about the concept of government aid for the purpose of rent, and Judge Judy unsuccessfully attempts to educate him about that. He asserts that because he could have paid for a hotel with the money, that he is justified in spending the money for other purposes.

But what struck me was the conclusion to the clip. The young man asks whether the plaintiff paid the rent on the apartment, and Judge Judy tells him that is an excellent question. Judge Judy then determines that the plaintiff only actually paid the rent for one month out of the several months that she is suing the defendant over. Judge Judy abruptly dismisses the case.

I’d appreciate feedback from the legally-oriented folks out there. It seems to me that Judge Judy is only justified in a dismissal like that if she is running (or simulating) a court of equity, not a court of law. So far as I can figure it, a court of law would hold it irrelevant to a claim whether the plaintiff was in violation of a contract with a third party. But in a court of equity, the plaintiff must be filing a case with “clean hands”, and it is that standard which the plaintiff in this case failed to meet.

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6 thoughts on “Judge Judy Runs a Court of Equity?

  1. Jonahdog

    I am a lawyer. Sounds like a good law school question. If the man owed her $ for rent, he owed her $. If she owed the landlord then that is between her and the landlord and should not have an impact on the man’s obligation to her. Your comment about law vs. equity is correct. In the olden days in England there were 2 sets of courts–those at law and those at equity. The equity courts developed when it became clear that some legal doctrines tended to be unfair and equity brought in the doctrine of unclean hands, laches (you waited too long to sue me–sort of a non-statutory statute of limitations) and others.
    In England how you brought the case and the particular pleadings were very important–you either had a law or equity case. In the US, at least in CT where I am, however the courts tend to look past the form over substance issue and one court can sit in both law and equity so the original distinction is blurred and pretty much gone.
    In addition, you are talking about Judge Judy, a semi-deity on day time TV.
    Hope that helps.

  2. Wesley R. Elsberry Post author

    It’s made more confusing because the remedy sought in the case was monetary, and usually that distinguishes between whether a court in the USA acts as a court of law (decides on $$$) or as a court of equity (decides on principles). I think the plaintiff got a raw deal from Judge Judy.

  3. Wesley R. Elsberry Post author

    Thanks for the reply and clarification. I know that the 2005 Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District plaintiffs requested no damages specifically to cast it as an equity case.

  4. John Pieret

    As I understand it, she’s not running a “court” at all. The show is a form of arbitration agreement where the parties agree to accept a pot of money put up by the producers that insures that neither party will walk away with nothing, though the “winner” may get more than the loser. That’s the incentive for the parties to drop the small claims suit and risk being reamed out by Judge Judy on national TV.

    Small claims courts are, in my experience, equity courts in fact if not in form, with the court doing “rough justice.” When done well, it is probably a good way of handling these minor disputes.

  5. Nuno Mendes

    Judge Judy has herself asserted on several occasions that her court is a court of equity and I would assume that those very conditions are specified in the arbitration agreement established under the applicable statutes of California, where the program is produced.

  6. Wesley R. Elsberry Post author

    Nuno, thanks for confirming that I recognized it correctly from a short video segment that had no such declaration.

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