Friday, November 21, 2003
Former Litigants on ‘Judge Mathis’: Producers Mandate Interruptions, Insults
By ROGER M. GRACE
“The show is phony. It’s pure phony.”
That’s what Anthony Clark, a Philadelphia rapper/producer, says about the “Judge Mathis” Show.
He appeared as a contestant—er, I mean “litigant”—on that show a few months ago. He’s not a happy alumnus.
The litigants are coached on what to say, are aided by cue cards, and are encouraged to interrupt and to hurl insults at the opponent, he told me.
Clark said of the show’s star, Greg Mathis, who plays the role of the judge:
“He’s about entertainment and he’s not about law.”
The show’s producer, George Washington, contacted him, Clark said, after he filed a small claims action in Philadelphia Municipal Court. He was claiming that after he brought his “drum machine” (a programmable electronic rhythm gizmo) to the home of a friend, the friend falsely accused him of stealing his gun, and retained the device as compensation.
Clark wanted the return of the drum machine or damages in the amount of $1,800.
The defendant, Christopher Williams, cross-complained for $700, the value of the missing gun.
The litigants were flown to Chicago, on separate flights, for the taping of their joust before Mathis, Clark said.
Former litigant says "Judge Mathis" show is "phony."
The following day, in the basement of the studio, Washington and a female producer whose name he doesn’t recall briefed him, he continued. Clark paraphrased Washington as telling him:
“I want you to say this. I want you to call him [the defendant] a punk. I want you to interject.”
He said he was instructed that if the defendant deviated from the truth, “You say, ‘That’s a lie.’”
The rapper claimed that the day after the confrontation at Williams’s house, a friend of Williams robbed him at gunpoint. He did not want to mention that at the mock court hearing, he said, but reported that “the pretty lady producer convinced me to make it interesting” by including reference to the alleged incident.
It would appear that Clark, a rapper, had more regard for restricting attention to evidence that is relevant than the former judge from Michigan.
Clark told me that Mathis belittled him on the show “and made me feel like an idiot.” He added: “I almost committed suicide which is totally against my religion.”
He said he was counting on Mathis to “vindicate me of being a thief.” While Mathis did indicate disbelief of the allegation that he had stolen the gun, Clark is not glad he went on the show. Mathis, he said, “turned the show into some kind of entertainment spectacle.”
Clark recited that Mathis told him that his own testimony was insufficient to establish that he had brought the drum machine to Williams’s house, which Williams denied. He said that Mathis invited him to return to the show with an affidavit from his aunt, who had driven him to the house, conforming that he did have such a percussion device with him.
Despite several phone calls to Washington, he complained, he has not been afforded a second hearing.
He intends to sue Washington, Clark said, indicating an assumption that Mathis would be shielded by judicial immunity. He was apparently unaware that Mathis no longer holds a judgeship. (Mathis, who lives in Detroit, is a former Michigan judge, now on active status with the State Bar.)
But didn’t Clark sign waivers that would preclude litigation against the show or its producers? He said he doesn’t know. When he was in the basement before the taping, Clark said, he was required to sign a bunch of papers, but was not given copies of them, despite asking for them.
What he did receive from Washington was $100 in cash for being on the show, he disclosed. Clark said the show paid for a one-night stay in a hotel, gave him a $35 food voucher, and took him to the airport in a limousine after the taping.
In all, he contended, he got “robbed and railroaded by the show.”
Randi Berger also appeared on “Judge Mathis” and wishes she hadn’t.
Berger runs a rescued dogs facility in Encino, as she has since 1987. Her mission is to find good homes for peopleless canines, mostly smaller ones.
One little woofer she placed was a mixed terrier named Jonathan. As she recounted it, nine months later, the adopting human, Tara Spencer, brought Jonathan back, complaining that he persistently ate cat litter and developed diarrhea; the woman became irate when Berger made note of the dog’s matted coat but, nonetheless, relinquished custody to her; “the dog was so matted he could not walk” and had toenails so long they were in-turned; a mobile groomer worked on Jonathan until 1 a.m.; Spencer subsequently sued the rescue operation, Recycled Pets, alleging that Berger placed the dog with a third party without her consent. The plaintiff alleged continuing ownership of the dog, having paid a fee for him (denominated by Berger a “donation”).
Before she was even served, Berger said, Dina Craig, a producer of “Judge Mathis,” contacted her, exhorting her to come on the program. “She said they really wanted my case,” Berger noted.
She assented, the erstwhile litigant said, because she thought “it would be great publicity for ‘rescue.’ ”
It didn’t turn out that way.
Berger was flown to Chicago. She arrived at the studio early morning on Aug. 22 and was presented with a 10-page contract, she said. “It was so unconscionable,” Berger remarked. The contract—which she said she obtained a copy of only after her attorney later demanded it—specified that no prior representations to her were binding and that the show was for “entertainment purposes, only.” If she had seen the contract (which she did sign) before flying to Chicago, “I wouldn’t have gone,” Berger said.
The recitation that she was not handed a copy of the contract when it was signed, you’ll note, matches Clark’s account. So does her depiction of the pre-taping coaching she received.
“They told me to cut off the judge or the plaintiff” if she disagreed with what they were saying, Berger related. When she balked at the directive to behave obstreperously, the dog rescuer said, Craig told her:
“The judge is going to have a problem with that because he’s expecting it.”
The taping started. The plaintiff, Berger said, “changes her reason” for suing, alleging that Berger “lied to her” that the dog was a “purebred Yorkie” (Yorkshire terrier) and, though no allegation of fraud was in the complaint, “the judge grabs onto it.”
Mathis found the defendant liable in the amount of $200—the sum of the donation—based on the purported misrepresentation of breeding.
Berger protested that the contract Spencer signed with her agency specified that the dog was a “Yorkie-Silkie mix” and the rabies certificate, provided to Spencer, described Jonathan was a “terrier mix.”
The defendant balked that Mathis did not rule on her cross complaint for her veterinarian and groomer expenses in returning the dog to an “adoptable” state.
Her major complaint, however, is that Mathis “was really slamming ‘rescue,’ ” asserting that they were not non-profit outfits and that “we should be giving dogs away for free.”
Berger insisted that all rescue operations request a donation, and cited a study by the University of Colorado showing that unless a person adopting a dog pays between $150 and $200, the dog will be returned, given away, sold to an animal research lab, or otherwise treated as being of no value.
She derives no revenues from her operations, Berger said, noting that, to the contrary, “I put about $5,000 every six months of my own money into it.”
Mathis, she asserted, was “really rude, nasty,” displaying a “cocky, arrogant attitude” and made her “look really bad.” The plaintiff, Berger added, “kept saying I was lying.”
Berger said of Mathis:
“He is completely ignorant and it’s frightening—it’s frightening that he’s a judge.”
After the taping, Berger said, Craig admonished her: “You didn’t yell enough. You were too nice.”
She was dropped off at the airport at 11 a.m., but had to wait around for her 5:45 p.m. flight, spending the time crying, Berger recalled.
She received $100 for her appearance and the “judgment” was paid to Spencer from the show’s kitty.
Berger said her attorney, Barbara Miller, contacted the show and pointed to reasons why the segment should not be aired. Among the points Miller raised was that the breed of the dog was “a completely new issue not raised in the Plaintiff’s correspondence or her complaint” and “that Defendant was not prepared to litigate it.” She also complained that “the practice of presenting someone with lengthy documents after they’ve spent hours in an airport and in an airplane and only shortly before airtime is questionable at best, unconscionable at worst.”
The producers agreed to scrap the segment, which Berger said was “the biggest victory.”
Spencer, an executive of an outfit that distributes television shows (not including “Judge Mathis”) corroborated Berger’s recitation of the prepping.
“I was coached on how to behave,” she said, identifying Craig as the person who did the coaching.
She said she was told “there should be interruptions” because “interrupting makes good TV,” and the session had to be kept “lively.” Spencer added that this was something Craig “impressed” on her, saying that Berger had received the same coaching and that she would be interrupting, so “you need to do the same.”
The former plaintiff said she was instructed to write out a statement of her case, including comments that were “insulting,” which she did. She was told what points “to play up” in her opening statement, she continued, and what phrases to include. She recalled writing that Berger was a “money grubber” and a “dog peddler” and was urged to say that during the session. Spencer said she complied.
She noted that she also used the word “charlatan” in her written summary, and was directed to use it on the show, but didn’t get around to including it.
Her account of the facts were that she returned Jonathan in “fine condition”; that while it was recited on the adoption contract that he was a “Yorkie-Silky mix,” Berger told her orally he was a Maltese, and that, in any event, he’s neither a yorkie nor a silky; that Berger insisted on compliance with a term of the contract that the dog be returned to Recycled Pets if the adoptor did not wish to keep him; and that Berger resold Jonathan for twice the original $200 fee.
With respect to the $2,600 cross-complaint, Spencer said that Berger was “ridiculed by the judge.”
I find it interesting that Berger and Spencer each said that Craig assured her that she had a strong case.
What say the producers of the “Judge Mathis” show about the allegations?
Washington, I’ve learned, is no longer with the show.
I got Craig on the line, but she refused to be interviewed, declaring, “I have to transfer you to Jill.” Office manager Jill Olson wouldn’t talk to me either, shifting the call to the show’s publicist, Beth Goldman, who admitted having no first hand knowledge of such matters as the prepping of the litigants or the withholding of copies of the contracts.
She said she would e-mail me a press kit, but didn’t. Shucks.
I don’t know who was right and who was wrong in connection with “The Case of the Missing Drum Machine.” As to "The Case of the Unadopted Pooch,” I suspect that Spencer has misjudged Berger’s motivation and has focused on a single transaction, overlooking the overall cost of her operations and her need to defray those costs.
Anyway, it seems clear there is a coaxing of litigants by the producers to conduct themselves with lack of civility.
The show claims to present “real cases, real people,” implying that actual court proceedings are being aired. The public is thus inculcated with the false notion that unruliness is commonplace and acceptable in courtrooms.
“Judge Mathis” deserves the “Public Disservice Award” of the year.
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company
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