Joe Brown (judge)

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Judge Joe Brown
Personal details
Born Joseph Brown
(1947-07-05) July 5, 1947 (age 69)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Debroah Herron
Children 2 sons
Alma mater University of California, Los
Nickname(s) Judge Joe Brown

Joseph "Judge Joe" Brown (born July 5, 1947) is an American lawyer. He is a former Shelby County, Tennessee, Criminal Court judge and a former arbiter of the arbitration-based reality court show, Judge Joe Brown.

Early years[edit]

Raised in the Crenshaw District of Los Angeles, Brown graduated at the top of his class at Dorsey High School, then in 1969[1] earned a bachelor's degree in political science and in 1973 a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree at UCLA. While attending law school, Brown worked as a substitute teacher. He is a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity.[2]


Brown became the first African-American prosecutor in the city of Memphis. He would later open his own law practice before becoming a judge on the State Criminal Court of Shelby County, Tennessee.

Brown was thrust into the national spotlight while presiding over James Earl Ray's last appeal of Ray's conviction for the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Brown was removed from the reopened investigation of King's murder due to alleged bias—former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney of Georgia wrote that Brown told her and the Congressional Black Caucus, unequivocally, that the so-called murder rifle was not the weapon that killed Martin Luther King, Jr.[3] It was during this time that Judge Brown caught the attention of the producers of Judge Judy.

In March 2014, Brown ran in the Democratic primary for the position of Shelby County district attorney general.[4] He lost the election to Republican incumbent Amy Weirich by 65% to 35%.[5]

Court show[edit]

Judge Joe Brown
Genre Reality Court Show
Starring Judge Joe Brown
Sonia Montejano
Jeanne Zelasko
No. of seasons 15
Location(s) Sunset Bronson Studios
Hollywood, California
Running time 60 minutes
Production company(s) Big Ticket Television
Distributor Worldvision Enterprises (1998–1999)
Paramount Domestic Television (1999–2006)
CBS Paramount Domestic Television (2006–2007)
CBS Television Distribution (2007–2013)
Original network First-run syndication
Picture format SDTV 480i (1998-2012)
HDTV 1080i (2012-2013)
Original release September 14, 1998 – September 6, 2013

Broadcast background[edit]

Judge Joe Brown is an American arbitration-based reality court show that premiered on September 14, 1998 and ran through the 2012–13 television season. The first-run syndication series entered its 15th and final season on September 10, 2012, also regularly airing in high-definition for the first time beginning in that same season as well.

The set of Judge Joe Brown was directly beside the set of Judge Judy within the same facility, Sunset Bronson Studios. After Judge Joe Brown's 2013 cancellation, however, the space was used for the courtroom series Paternity Court for a season (2013–present), followed by the court show Hot Bench (2014–present).[6] As Judge Judy was and still is, Judge Joe Brown was both produced by Big Ticket Television and syndicated by CBS Television Distribution (CTD), the successor company to their previous distributors: Worldvision Enterprises, Paramount Domestic Television, and CBS Paramount Domestic Television.

The show was syndicated in the US, and aired during daytime hours. It aired on CTV in Canada and Fox8 in Australia. Like the majority of television court shows, Judge Joe Brown is a form of binding arbitration. The show's producers maintain the appearance of a civil courtroom.



Joe Brown is the first African American male to preside over a courtroom television show and the first African American person to preside over a long-running courtroom series; however, former New York prosecutor Star Jones is the first African American person to preside over a court show (Jones and Jury 1994–95). Brown's entrance into the court show genre has been followed by other African American male arbiters, most notably Greg Mathis of the NAACP Image Award winning court show Judge Mathis.

Staying power[edit]

With all of its seasons having aired consecutively, solely under Brown, Joseph Brown was the second longest running television jurist for many years prior to his cancellation, just behind Judith Sheindlin. While there are court shows that outnumber both Judge Joe Brown and Judge Judy in seasons within the judicial arena, namely Divorce Court and The People's Court, they are also programs with multiple lives and multiple "judges" in their histories.


As far as ratings in the legal/courtroom genre go, Brown's program ranked in second place during its entire run, typically just above The People's Court and significantly below Judge Judy.[7] Consequently, Judge Joe was the highest rated male-arbitrated television series during its run.[8] It should be noted, however, that Brown was paired with the highly rated Judge Judy series.

Adjudicating approach[edit]

For the most part, Brown has a languid and perfunctory nature about him, particularly while gathering all the facts and trying to figure out the case.[9] Occasionally, however, once he's suspected a party of being guilty, Brown has become particularly cantankerous as shown in his irritated, quarrelsome communication. Brown has also subjected these litigants to harsh tirades and judgmental commentary.[9] At several intervals throughout many of the cases, Brown has been seen up on his feet in the midst of a tirade, pacing and raging around the bench area. In these moments, he's also been known to sit atop the desktop of his bench to add emphasis to his long, angry tirades.[9] The harshest of Brown's tirades have generally been delivered to men whose behavior he regards as particularly irresponsible or egregious. In these moments, Brown flings out his personal values and guidance at men, such as: grow up and be a man, you don't know nothing about manhood, quit acting like you haven't got any "home training", be a civilized human being and stop trying to be "cool", quit acting like a "thug", take responsibility, have a sense of class and decency, etc. Brown has been criticized for these behaviors as "lacking self-control."[10]

Brown tends to allow "victimized" or "wronged" litigants ample opportunity to also berate "guilty" litigants, often delighting in this and listening in amusement; moreover, he allows audience applause and laughter at the guilty litigant's expense so that the whole courtroom is against the guilty party.[9] With brasher litigants than other courtroom programs, however, perhaps due to the nature of the cases or at least Brown's approach, guilty litigants on Judge Joe Brown have been known to act out. On past episodes, many litigants who were perceived as guilty by Brown and treated accordingly have not hesitated to chuck items around the courtroom, such as water; disrespect the judge; threaten the other party or spectators, etc. In fact, in February 2010, Brown himself was sued by one of his former television show litigants for alleged slander and fraud,[11] but won the case because of the waivers the court show has its litigants sign prior to the televised proceedings.[12] On the series, Brown has typically responded to most of the aforementioned behaviors by telling the litigants they'll be receiving a ticket or demanding that the litigant be arrested and thrown in jail for violating statute that requires respectful decorum in arbitration proceedings.

Recurring roles[edit]

The program also featured a news reporter and bailiff. Holly Evans, was the bailiff from 1998 to 2006. Sonia Montejano replaced her for the rest of the run in 2006. Jacque Kessler was the show's news reporter from 1998 to 2010. Former FOX Sports and current MLB Network freelance reporter Jeanne Zelasko succeeded Kessler as the reporter in 2010. Ben Patrick Johnson was the show's announcer from 1998 to 2005. Rolonda Watts succeeded him as Announcer in 2005. Popular musicians Coolio, Ike Turner, and Rick James have all been litigants on the show.


It was reported in the summer of 2012 that Brown was the second highest paid daytime television personality, earning $20 million a year, only second to Judge Judy, who earns $45 million a year.[13] In April 2013, however, following the show's cancellation, Brown disputed these reports claiming that CTD was only paying him $5 million a year.[14]

Salary negotiation conflicts and series cancellation, Returning to TV[edit]

As reported on February 27, 2013, by Broadcasting & Cable, CTD had told Brown that the salary amount they were paying him—of $20 million (though Brown disputes this, claiming that CTD has never given him a salary of any more than $5 million[14])—would be cut in the wake of his declining ratings, license fees, and advertising revenues.[citation needed]

Ratings for Judge Joe Brown were declining during its last several seasons on the air.[citation needed] In the 2013 February sweeps, the show was down 20% to a 2.4 live plus same day rating from a 3.0 last year according to Nielsen Media Research.[citation needed] Brown refused to do the show under the new terms. Rather, he shopped his program to other distributors.[15] Station executives told Broadcasting & Cable they were less than happy to be learning about the dissension at the end of February 2013 when their options for replacing the show were limited.[15]

CTD announced on March 26, 2013 that they would be cancelling the court show and cease distributing the series after its summer 2013 reruns.[citation needed] The final CTD-produced episodes were taped on March 14, 2013. Fox station owners (that had contracted to air the program) were reportedly not interested in a CTD-chosen replacement judge.[16]

Brown later called out CTD for their treatment of him, claiming they had reneged on contract agreements, cheated him out of money, failed to give him sufficient advertising in favor of concentrating their advertisements in Judge Judy, and engaged in several other unjust, underhanded and unethical business practices.[17]

On September 2015, it was announced that Brown is returning with a new court series called True Verdict with Judge Joe Brown, which is slated to air in fall of 2016, later this year. this time, this format will feature more of a "talk-show hybrid". it will feature cases that includes DNA tests and polygraph tests as well, similar to MGM's Lauren Lake's Paternity Court .

Personal life[edit]

Judge Joe Brown is divorced and has two sons from his first marriage.[18]

Legal issues[edit]

In March 2014, Brown was arrested in Memphis, Tennessee, and charged with five counts of contempt of court and getting "verbally abusive" during a child support case overseen by Magistrate Harold Horne. Brown, who retains his law license, was reviewing a child support matter as a favor to an acquaintance. According to press accounts, Brown became combative and irate after Horne refused to discuss details of the case that were not on the schedule. Brown was sentenced to five days in jail,[4][19] but was later released on his own recognizance.[20] Brown surrendered to the Shelby County Sheriff on August 27, 2015 to serve his five-day sentence at the Shelby County Corrections Facility in Memphis.[21] He was released from the Shelby County Corrections Facility the morning of September 1, 2015.[22]


  1. ^ "HuffPost Live". Retrieved 17 September 2015. 
  2. ^ "Courtroom bios". Archived from the original on August 1, 2010. Retrieved April 18, 2011. 
  3. ^ Cynthia McKinney (18 September 2002). "Goodbye to All That". CounterPunch. Retrieved 17 September 2015. 
  4. ^ a b "TV's Judge Joe Brown Arrested In Tennessee". CBS Local. 25 March 2014. Retrieved 25 March 2014. 
  5. ^ "Former TV Judge Joe Brown Stumbles In Bid To Become Tennessee District Attorney". The Huffington Post. 8 August 2014. Retrieved 17 September 2015. 
  6. ^ "'Paternity Court' Clearances Hit 92%". Retrieved 2013-08-16. 
  7. ^ "Syndication Ratings: Syndies Steady Headed Into November Sweeps - 2012-11-07 20:08:46 | Broadcasting & Cable". Retrieved 2013-01-20. 
  8. ^ "Smith & Hassler Announce Television Ad Campaign with New Media Spokesperson, TV Actor Judge Joe Brown | Mar 20, 2013". Retrieved 2013-03-20. 
  9. ^ a b c d Roger M. Grace (2003-10-09). "Black Judges Represented on TV as Loud, Crass Jerks". Retrieved 2013-01-20. 
  10. ^ Roger M. Grace (2003-10-02). "Seven Courtroom Shows Appear on TV's Fall Docket". Retrieved 2013-01-20. 
  11. ^ "Judge Joe Brown Sued in 'Nookie' Case". 2010-02-22. Retrieved 2013-01-20. 
  12. ^ Gardner, Eriq. "Judge Joe Brown wins ruling in his own lawsuit". Reuters. Retrieved 2013-01-20. 
  13. ^ Chow, Andrew (August 14, 2012). "Judge Judy, Judge Joe Brown Among TV's Top-Paid Stars". Findlaw. Retrieved September 12, 2013. 
  14. ^ a b Associated, The (2013-04-11). "Judge Judy: 4 More Years And $180 Million? - Careers Articles". Retrieved 2013-04-19. 
  15. ^ a b "Exclusive: 'Judge Joe Brown' Star, CTD Explore Split". Broadcasting & Cable. 2013-02-27. Retrieved 2013-03-01. 
  16. ^ "CBS Cancels 'Judge Joe Brown' Amid Salary Dispute". The Hollywood Reporter. 2013-03-26. Retrieved 2013-04-19. 
  17. ^ "Judge Joe Brown Slams CBS for 'Hollywood Trick Economics' (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter. 2013-04-09. Retrieved 2013-04-19. 
  18. ^ All About Judge Joe Brown on WCHS-TV8
  19. ^ Oldenburg, Ann (25 March 2014). "Judge Joe Brown: The rant, the mugshot, the jokes". USA Today. Retrieved 25 March 2014. 
  20. ^ Duke, Alan (25 March 2014). "TV's Judge Joe Brown jailed by real judge after courtroom argument, court says". CNN. Retrieved 25 March 2014. 
  21. ^ The Commercial Appeal. "TV judge Joe Brown begins 5-day jail term". MCA. Retrieved 17 September 2015. 
  22. ^ "Joe Brown released from jail". 1 September 2015. Retrieved 17 September 2015. 

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