Back in 2010, there was an amazing Judge Judy segment that featured four people in a dispute over some smashed TVs and a dead cat. You may have seen a clip of it called "Best Judge Judy ending EVER!!!!!" (It's embedded above.)
The story was completely made up – invented by four roommates in order to get a free trip to LA and some cash out of the Judge Judy producers.
The story they invented was, basically, that a guy called Jonathan had gotten wasted at the house of a girl named Kate and smashed two TVs that she owned. One of the TVs, she said, landed on her pet cat, Trips, killing it. You can see the full segment here.
I spoke to Jonathan, the defendant in the case, to hear his side of what happened:
VICE: What gave you guys the idea to contact the show?
Jonathan Coward: Well, my friend Kate, who was the plaintiff, had just moved up to New York from Baltimore, and she asked me what a quick way to make money was. I had some friends who went on Judge Joe Brown back in the late 90s. They were on there for some sort of roommate dispute. And they told me that the show pays the settlement.
Was that a genuine case?
Yeah. So I told her we could come up with some story for Judge Judy, and we would probably get the settlement and a free trip to LA, because we knew that's where they shot. So we tried to think of a story that was absurd, something that would be good television. So I just threw out the idea of the cat thing, just off the top of my head. The whole point was that we need to have a story that's entertaining, but also involves damaged property. I was aware that the cap for small claims was around four grand. Kate got real excited about it and emailed the show straight away. And they got back to her and were interested in doing it.
How did they reach out to you?
They just called. I allowed Kate to give them my number. I was really dodgy and cagey about answering the phone, and I would, like, talk to them for a second and hang up, and I told them I'd do it if they gave me an appearance fee and flew my friend Brian out for a character witness. I guess I was more concerned about making this more of a party for ourselves than anything else.
How much of the story that you guys told is true?
Absolutely none of it. Once they agreed to put us on the show, we realised that we needed to take roles and not have this be something that was completely see-through. There were tensions at our house, so a slight amount of it was real.
So you guys actually lived together?
Did the cat actually exist?
The cat existed, yeah. His name was Trips, and to my knowledge he's still alive. He did end up running away, like, pretty soon after the show, though.
Is Brian, your character witness, actually your ex-boyfriend?
No, he's not. That was another funny thing about it – in some sort of confusing, childish way that I can't really understand, Kate decided to write in that I was gay. Like she thought that was going to bother me, but I had no problem with that.
So they flew you guys out to LA? Did they put you up in a hotel and stuff? How much money do you think they spent on sending you guys out there?
I would guess around nine grand. It was a decent hotel.
Were you in the same hotel as Kate?
No, they had us in separate hotels. The thing that was really funny about it was that, in some way, I think the producer knew that it was bullshit. Because the night before we were leaving, she called me and was like, "You know, you guys can comp your meals from when you get in, just save your receipts. But if you guys have receipts for the same restaurant, the whole thing is off." In this sort of wink-nudge way. Because, like, if you're to believe this story and there's animosity between us, then why would we be having dinner together?
Other than that, was there any indication that they thought you were lying? Do you think they would've cared that you were lying?
No, I think the producer liked the story so much that she wanted to, like, let it happen, but was letting us know that if it was fake – and I think she did believe it to be – that we needed to keep up the front the whole time we were there.
Did you guys have to go through any kind of screening process?
Not a lot. They just asked what exactly happened, what times, and blah, blah, blah. Just logistical things, not really anything about who we were as people.
To what extent are they your actual personalities on the show?
I can't speak for everyone else, but I knew that I had to lose to win. So in order to do that I had to be pretty despicable.
Do you mind that people probably think you killed a cat?
Left: Arriving in LA in matching leather jackets. Right: The Judge Judy studio in Hollywood.
Has anyone ever confronted you about it?
Only once or twice have people been upset by it enough to confront me.
I'm surprised by that. I feel like, on the internet, a cat killer is the worst thing you can be.
Yeah, that's the spirit animal of the internet, I guess.
On the actual day you were filming, what was the process? Were you kept in a separate holding area to Kate?
Yeah, there was a plaintiff greenroom and a defendant greenroom.
What was the plaintiff greenroom like?
It showed us that we were the only ones lying. Everyone in there was like a caged animal just ready to be unleashed on each other. There were these girls in there from Virginia Beach just losing their fucking minds. One of them worked at a strip club, and it was some dispute about, like, one of the owners there or something, and she had half her teeth missing and was just freaking out about how, like, she couldn't wait to see his lying fucking face and that kinda shit. A lot of venom. A lot of realness.
Was it intimidating standing before Judy?
Oh, she's awful! If nothing else, the stonewashed, wide-leg, boot-cut jeans that she was wearing under her gown when she walked out really intimidated me.
Oh, so Judy keeps it casual from the waist down?
Super casual, in a really weirdo Middle American kinda way.
What kind of shoes was she wearing?
The cut of the jean was so extreme I don't think I could see them. I just remember being really astounded by how wide-legged they were.
Did you get to meet her after?
No. Our taping was so quick. The editors were amazing – we were taping for 10 or 15 minutes, and they were able to get what they got out of it. I think the best thing that happened was, Brian referred to Judy as "mama". The night before, in the hotel, he was like, "I don't care what happens; I just wanna call her mama and see what happens."
Were you worried that, at any point, they would bust you for being fake?
Yeah, definitely. I think the reason our taping was so short was because Judy ended up figuring out that we were lying. I mean, she really shook Kate. She actually made Kate cry.
What makes you think Judy suspected you were faking?
Well, because we were, and she listens to people lie all fucking day.
So how much money did you guys end up getting?
Well, I think Kate was rewarded $1250, and my appearance fee was $250.
Did you all get appearance fees?
No, I did because I was the defendant. It was compensation for my loss of character. Which is a pretty low compensation.
What did you guys do with the money?
We divided it between us. After we left the taping, we took our food stipend, went to a dispensary, rented a next-year model convertible red mustang, and we drove that past the studio and sat outside for a second, just like, tempting fate, flicking off Judge Judy for a moment. Then we went to Musso & Frank's and used our money to have a lavish, silly lunch, then took the convertible to Malibu and hung out in a hot tub with friends and drank champagne all day.
Did it feel better doing that knowing it was on Judy's dime?
It felt awesome! It felt so good. We were trying to be as excessive as we could possibly. And I think we all had some Pentecostal guilt about it for a moment, but then rationalised it like, not only are we acting – we're writing. And we should really be getting paid more for this, anyways.
Do you think people often lie on the show?
I'm sure, yeah.
There's at least 10 heavily quotable lines in there. Did you pre-write lines before you went?
Really? Some of the stuff, like "We're straight; we hate those people," and "We only smash stuff outside," those lines are gold.
No, all of that stuff was definitely improvised.
Have you ever tried to do something like this with another show?
Kate was trying to do something with Maury Povich. She had a real moment where she was obsessed with the concept of pushing it further. I think the story [they took to Maury] was that Brian came from a very well-to-do family, and they'd been dating for a while, and it was coming time to introduce Kate to his parents, and he had this problem with her only wearing Winnie the Pooh gear, and he was embarrassed of that. Which was good. But it didn't end up happening. She kept trying to get Brian to try out for other things like that. And there was another moment where he was trying out for My Strange Addiction, and his whole story was that he was a kleptomaniac, but only stole tchotchkes from other people's houses.
And he didn't make it to the air?
Well, they really wanted to make it. They did interviews with him, and one of the producers was like, "Oh my god, this made our executive producer cry, it was so touching. But unfortunately, we can't do it because, if we filmed you doing these things, the camera men would be accessories to crimes."
That's a bummer.
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