Host's most famous former boss: Janet Reno
Location of Studio: 106th St. and Park Ave. (Note that the show 106 and Park is filmed nowhere near here.)
Breakfast provided: Dunkin Donuts and orange juice.
Rather than orange juice, I wish they knew that donuts actually go with: coffee.
Number of security guards who stand around doing nothing save the one who scans audience members as they walk in: 6.
Oft-repeated but factually incorrect catchphrase on this show: "The Nile is not a river in Egypt!"
Seats: Benches, very much like church pews.
Recommendation given by the guy in the urinal next to me: "Yeah, he's a good one to see live. More entertaining than most of the judge shows."
The world has many David Youngs. One wrestles professionally, one brokered the end of the writers' strike. One played professional rugby for Wales. There are poets and musicians, as there are of every name. One was special ops for Nixon. I was there for the TV judge.
There aren't many people involved with this production, in terms of both staff and audience members, and that's relaxing. The Audience Coordinator was a chatty guy who was quick to point out to me that Young "was a real judge" back in Miami. That doesn't mean his televised trials are fiction, he insisted. But he's these days restricted to small claims.
Most people there are regulars, he said. They come as groups of five to eight or so because it's entertaining and you learn a little about the law as you go. Decisions made in Young's TV court are legally binding, though they can be appealed. People come to have their cases settled here mainly because it's a free trip to New York.
As luck would have it, I was there to see paternity tests, known in the vulgate as baby mama drama. The timing of cases was a stark contrast to how it's done at Maury's show. There, a new "you are not the father" bomb dropped every few minutes, continually. At Young's show, he asked probing questions of both the plaintiff and the defendant for about half an hour per case.
The result of this, of course, is that we become far more involved with the lives of the people up there. That the host has a law degree and the audience didn't come to hoot and holler only furthered my inability to distance myself from the very real problems these people had.
The first was a Tom denying paternity and a Natasha pressing claims to get child support. Nothing new here. Young almost immediately sided with Natasha, and when it was revealed that Tom never revealed to her before their affair that he was married, it was all over in Young's mind. He interviewed Natasha at length and hardly let Tom speak. When Natasha said Tom's mother had been present at the birth of the child in debate, and Young asked him why she would do that if he weren't the father, Tom stammered that his mother was crazy. Young launched into a tirade about the sanctity of mothers.
Time for the test results. Young talked to a doctor in Toledo via satellite hookup. "With a likelihood of 99.9998%, Tom is the father," he said. Maury never had a doctor tell him results. For all we know, he was making them up. At least Young's show has a screen with a guy with a lab coat on.
After that came the post-findings ruling. This is where Young, a bit of a prima donna, lectures both parties on responsibility. He asked Tom what his father was like growing up.
"He wasn't around."
"I see," Young said. "I assume he left you and your mom?"
"This is why you have problems with relationships. Because you weren't raised right. If you had been--"
"Judge, I was raised ok."
"Do not interrupt me when I'm speaking. You weren't raised right, and look where you are now. You cannot do this to your son."
A little awkward, if you ask me.
The second case, though, was the most dramatic. A woman named Taeshawn, married at sixteen, separated at eighteen, divorced at 22, "married, I think, for eight years," got involved with Jamal, who is ten years her senior. Jamal didn't talk much and didn't like to talk. The first two evenings Taeshawn recounted were hazy, she said, because she was pretty drunk.
"So does your alcoholism keep you from being a good mother?" asked the Judge.
We never established whether Taeshawn actually is or isn't an alcoholic, but Young is both very quick to judge and often right.
"Jamal don't even help with the baby," Taeshawn said.
Young turned to Jamal. "Did you ever change this child's diaper?"
"Did you feed him?"
"Did you buy him toys, or play with him?"
"Yes." Young turned to Taeshawn.
"It seems like he's a pretty good father."
"Yeah, I guess he is," she said.
It didn't seem they had a real court case at all. They were there for the paternity test. Not only was Jamal not there to deny fatherhood, it became apparent he was resigned to loving Taeshawn from afar and was hoping against hope he was the father.
"Do you love the boy?" asked Young.
"Would you be his dad even if it turns out you're not the biological father?"
A pause. "No."
"Because it would be too hard?"
Another pause. "Yes."
Again we went to the doctor in Toledo. This time he gave no likelihood of accuracy. There was just a simple "Jamal is not this child's father."
Young turned to Jamal. "Do you have other children?"
"Well, they are lucky. Lucky, lucky children. Because they have a fabulous dad. Case dismissed." He banged his gavel and walked out.
The custom on this show holds that no one may leave until dismissed by his bailiff. Young leaves, then we wait about sixty seconds, then the plaintiff leaves, then we wait another minute, and finally the defendant is dismissed. Jamal stood there, silent, his back turned to us, while we all waited.
Taeshawn was dismissed.
We all heard Young from behind the set. "Man! I really wanted that guy to be the father! He seemed like such a good guy. Pete, who do we have next?"
Finally, Jamal was dismissed.