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Larry King Live
Judge Mills Lane, Judge Joe Brown and Judge Greg Mathis Lay Down the Law on Daytime TV?Aired May 8, 2000 - 9:00 p.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "JUDGE JOE BROWN")
JOE BROWN, TV JUDGE: Get out. I'm not going to let you come in here and make a mockery of the justice system by continuing to do what you do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "JUDGE MILLS LANE")
MILLS LANE, TV JUDGE: Hey, right here. Look me right here. Do not do that again. I'll chase you right out of here. You talk to me, not to them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "JUDGE MATHIS")
GREG MATHIS, TV JUDGE: Man, you think I'm a fool?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I don't.
MATHIS: No, I'm not. I'm a ex-street guy for real.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, GUEST HOST: Tonight, order in the court! Who's laying down the law on daytime TV?
Joining us in Los Angeles, the unorthodox, outspoken Judge Joe Brown. He retired from the real-life bench just last month. In Reno, Nevada, Judge Mills Lane, a former boxing referee known for the catch- phrase, let's get on. And in Detroit, a one-time gang member and jailbird who truly turned his life around, Judge Greg Mathis.
It's all next on LARRY KING LIVE.
Good evening and welcome to LARRY KING LIVE. I'm Greta Van Susteren, sitting in for Larry who has the night off. Well, actually, let me brag just a second about Larry. He doesn't have the night off, he's hosting his annual dinner for the Larry King Cardiac Foundation, which he raises hundreds of thousands of dollars for people who have heart problem. So this is Larry's night to raise money and do good work,.
But we're going to talk tonight with the TV judges, and we have a great panel.
And let me go first to you, Judge Mathis, in Detroit.
Is it entertainment or is it justice you do?
MATHIS: Well, it's the same justice I gave as a sitting judge for five years here in Detroit on the 36th District Court. Some might say it's entertaining, but indeed it's justice that we're giving to everyday people who are coming here with emotion and passion and presenting their cases the best way they know how.
VAN SUSTEREN: Judge Lane, is it entertainment or justice?
LANE: Well, I think the fact of the matter is it's both. In order for the show to be successful, there simply has to be some entertainment value. There's no question about that.
However, when you hear somebody's case, they're entitled to two things: to believe that somebody's listening to the facts, trying to decide what the truth is, and applying the law applicable to that case. So I think you can have both, and I think it's a combination of both.
VAN SUSTEREN: Judge Lane, is the fix in, or is this the real McCoy? Are you actually dispensing justice, or do you know what's going to happen before the case even starts?
LANE: I have no idea what I'm going to say, I have no idea what they're going to say. It's just like a small claims court. As a matter of fact, on the TV court you actually probably have more time to present your case than you would in a regular small claims court. But it's not fixed. The fix is not in. I have no idea how I'm going to rule until I hear everybody have their say.
VAN SUSTEREN: How about you, Judge Brown? Is it all real, everything that happens on TV in your TV courtroom?
BROWN: Hi, Laurie.
We just talked the other day, and like I said then, we won't take a case unless it's a transfer from a small claims court. These are real litigants, real issues, and we deal with binding arbitration with no appeal. We do guarantee collection.
America's always been entertained by its courts, and that has historically been one of its main forms of entertainment. Now we're getting back to that, and the entertainment becomes enlightening and the enlightenment becomes entertained.
VAN SUSTEREN: Judge Brown, if I walked into your Tennessee courtroom, where you no longer sit, or watched you on TV, would I see two different judges or would it be the same one? BROWN: You'd see the same one, though I would say that in the state court I actually was more intense. You see, there I could lock somebody up and say, hey, he's not leaving for a while.
VAN SUSTEREN: Judge Mathis, do you have any priors? Prior arrests or prior convictions?
MATHIS: As a juvenile delinquent, I had several arrests and a couple of convictions. However, as you stated earlier, I overcame all those obstacles and went on to become the youngest judge in the state of Michigan, 15 years after leaving juvenile. So, yes.
VAN SUSTEREN: Judge Mathis, were you in a gang in Detroit?
MATHIS: Yes, I was. I was a street youth and a gang member for a certain time. In my neighborhood, where I grew up, with tough housing projects, either you were a member of the gang or you were a victim of the gang. The peer pressure was so heavy that were victimized if you didn't join up with the gang. And I just didn't want to be a victim and have no other choice, quite frankly. And unfortunately...
LANE: You know, Judge Mathis...
MATHIS: Unfortunately that's the case with hundreds of thousands of other young people living in very crime- and drug-infested neighborhoods, and that's why I fight so hard to try and help them.
VAN SUSTEREN: Judge Mathis, you have to admit that it's very unusual to go from gang member to the bench and now to be a TV judge. What turned you around?
MATHIS: Well, it was a long road, first of all. And I had a lot of obstacles even after I turned around, including the state bar of Michigan withheld my law license for three years based on my sealed juvenile background after passing the bar exam.
But what turned me around was a wake-up call that I think most people get at some point in their life when they're going down the wrong direction. They get a wake-up call. My wake-up call was the illness of my mother. And my last stint in jail, at age 17, she came to me while she was dying, told me she was dying of cancer and asked if I would change my life around before she died and asked the judge if he would give me a second chance. And he did. He ordered me to go back to school and get a GED because I had dropped out.
And I kept my commitment to my mother, and I kept my commitment to the judge who gave me a second chance, and I think I went a little further than getting my GED as he ordered.
VAN SUSTEREN: Judge Lane, is it fun? Is your job fun?
LANE: Well, it is fun. My financial associates became my friends, Bob Young (ph) and John Tallman (ph) and all the people I work with at our show. I don't call it my show, I call it our show. And it's a lot of fun to do. The production is great, the producers do a heck of a job. And, yes, it's fun doing the work. In the course, the economic payback isn't too bad either.
VAN SUSTEREN: What do you think of Judge Judy, Judge Lane?
LANE: I think Judge Judy's a tough judge. She's got the best numbers. She's way out in front. I think sometimes she may be too tough. I believe that sometimes people have got to have their butts chewed and you've got to be rough on them.
On the other hand, every now and again somebody deserves a pat on the back and some compliment and some encouragement. I think you've got to do that, too. But Judy's way out front. And, as a matter of fact, when I saw her in New Orleans at the NASTA (ph) convention, I said, how are you doing toughy? She laughed. She's a good gal.
VAN SUSTEREN: Judge Brown, do you agree with Judge Lane's comments about Judge Judy?
BROWN: Well, Judge Judy and I both work with Paramount, and her courtroom, her set, rather, is right next to mine, and we basically have the same production staff. I like what she does sometimes. She has her style, I have mine.
VAN SUSTEREN: Judge Brown, how many of the shows have you actually seen? Have you seen Judge Mathis's show or Judge Lane's show?
BROWN: Frankly, I very, very seldom watch television. I think I caught everybody once or twice, including myself. So I usually read when I have spare time. But everybody's pretty interesting.
VAN SUSTEREN: Let me ask the same question I asked Judge Lane. Is your job fun? And is it more fun than sitting on the bench in Tennessee?
BROWN: Sitting on the bench in Tennessee was not fun. It was interesting. But when you're talking about, say, somebody getting his face ripped half off and bleeding to death in 30 minutes, that's not what I call fun, even though it was interesting. What I do right now is very interesting, because it does not have the grievous consequences that what I did before had for a misstep or a miscue.
VAN SUSTEREN: All right, we're going to take a break. We'll be right back. We have a lot more with our panel of judges.
Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "JUDGE JUDY")
JUDY SHEINDLIN, TV JUDGE: Want to know why she didn't? Because she lies.
Over my dead body.
Doesn't say stupid here.
Do I look as if I need help from you? UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This man told me everything I wanted to hear from any man in my life.
SHEINDLIN: That should have been your first clue.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "JUDGE MATHIS")
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Masters has been known to be a pathological liar. He has been diagnosed as so.
MATHIS: Were you diagnosed as pathological liar?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely not.
MATHIS: That's what a pathological liar would say.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Amen, Amen.
MATHIS: They would look me in the eye and say it just like that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VAN SUSTEREN: Judge Mathis, you just saw some video of yourself. Is that the way you always are?
MATHIS: Yes, I am. I don't take life extremely seriously. You know, I try and have a little lightheartedness to even the most serious issues. After all, most folks deal with life's challenges every day, all day, and they get stressed out. And I try and relieve a little of that and add a little levity to most things that I do.
VAN SUSTEREN: You know, Judge Mathis, when you talk about levity, I've been in a lot of courtrooms where there wasn't much levity, to put it lightly, where judges have been very disturbed by the lawyers, including my own conduct sometimes. Do you get mad like that?
MATHIS: Certainly, I sometimes allow my emotion to overtake me. I would suggest that if there's any shortcoming that I might have, it's that I sometimes become emotional about some of the cases that come before me. It's hard to separate, although you're supposed to as a judge, separate yourself from the issues. But these are human beings who are dealing with everyday issues and everyday life challenge, some of the same experiences I've seen growing up in my life and some of the same suffering that I've experienced. And so it's difficult for me not to kind of feel and empathize with their life experiences. And so, yes, sometimes I do become overcome with emotion and demonstrate that from time to time.
VAN SUSTEREN: Judge Lane, what's your strength as a judge and what's your short suit? LANE: Well, I think my strength as a judge is I have been an advocate. I was a prosecutor for 20 years, and I know the system works, and I believe in our system of government as the separation of powers.
I think one of my shortcomings is that I'm sometimes very impatient. If a lawyer dances me around, back when I was on the -- when I was a sitting judge in Reno, Nevada, if I get danced around and lied to, if I think a lawyer's giving me what I call the dipsy-doodle, I'm not very patient. I run out of that. And sometimes I think I'm not as tolerant as I should be about certain things. But I do my best.
But I think the fact that I've been in the pit, I've been a trial lawyer and I know what it takes to put a case on, I think -- and understanding and accepting that proposition is one of my strengths, I think.
VAN SUSTEREN: You know, Judge Lane, when you were back being a regular judge, you had a lot of power. You had contempt. You could hold lawyers or litigants who were unruly in contempt. You don't have that on TV. You have nothing. How do you handle the unruliness?
LANE: Well, that's a fair question and a good one. What I do is this: Many times I've said to litigants that get out of lie a bit, I've said, look, I'm not necessarily final because I'm right, I'm right because I'm final. And if you keep that up, you're out of here. And if I bounce you out of here, there's no recovery. Plus we have pretty good security. And if I tell security, OK, that's it, take them out, get them away from the table, that tends to quiet folks down pretty good.
VAN SUSTEREN: What's the worst problem you've had on television as a judge?
LANE: Well, I haven't had any bad times, Greta. It's been really fun. I think the most difficult thing for me is when you really can't tell which party is telling you the truth. Now judges that say they can always tell, I think they're lying to you. You can't always tell. You do the best you can to decipher what the truth is. But when I'm in a quandary about who is really giving me the dipsy-doodle, that can be a difficult time for me.
VAN SUSTEREN: Judge Brown, how do you tell who's lying and who's not?
BROWN: Been there, seen that, done that. You start categorizing what you hear and have you heard it before under what circumstances. Generally what happens, if you cannot tell which side is prevailing by carrying their burden of proof or who has levity through the credibility issue, then that side that has the burden of proof will fail. So there are legal remedies for being unable to make that determination.
VAN SUSTEREN: Judge Brown, if I want to get on your show, how do I do it? BROWN: 1-877-JOES-LAW and have a real-life claim filed in small claims court. If it looks like it's entertaining, looks like it might provide some entertainment as well as enlightenment then we'll take it.
I have a general rule that I will not consider certain types of cases unless there is some merit that can be found in a message being given to the viewer.
VAN SUSTEREN: Judge Mathis, how do I get on your show?
MATHIS: Call 1-888-VERDICT. But in any event...
VAN SUSTEREN: But what kind of problem do I have to have? I mean, what does it take...
MATHIS: Small claims...
VAN SUSTEREN: ... to get your producers to do this?
MATHIS: Certainly, small claims under $5,000. Our producers go out throughout the courtrooms of America looking into cases that have been filed. And those that they deem interesting, they'll call the litigants and ask them if they want to bring their case on the Judge Mathis show. And what we look for are any small claims under $5,000 and those cases primarily that deal with issues relating to young people, family and domestic violence.
VAN SUSTEREN: All right, we're going to take a break. We'll be right back and we're going to take your calls, so stay with us and call.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "JUDGE MILLS LANE")
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He did. He did, and this is the price.
LANE: Well, that may be.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He did and this is the price...
LANE: That may be.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He did and this is the price he got to pay.
LANE: That may be. That may be.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Whatever, yes, I did it.
LANE: You're the most -- you're the most opinion...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, you know what? Did you learn something?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I never told you -- oh, yes, not to...
LANE: Security, take her out. Take her out, take her. Take her out.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Don't play with people's feelings. Whatever, whatever.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Goodbye.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Whatever, whatever, whatever, whatever.
LANE: This television land every now and again you get one. This lady -- no, no I will not use lady.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.
LANE: This person is the most opinionated, wrong, obstinate person I've seen in this courtroom. She loses. She had no course of action. Whatever her counter claim was, it's gone.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "JUDGE JOE BROWN")
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Your honor, he was doing...
BROWN: OK, why don't you stay the devil away from him...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I do,
BROWN: ... and you don't contact her.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't.
BROWN: What's she saying now?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He had problems from the beginning, before he met me.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's had mental problems and...
BROWN: You dedicated yourself to bringing up all that information.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, it was because all of these issues have come up...
BROWN: Don't you have you anything better to do?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... in court before, and I had to defend this.
BROWN: Don't you need help yourself?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, yes, because of the death threats that I've received.
BROWN: Well why don't you get out of his life and see to it...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have.
BROWN: ... and see to it that these cards don't get sent to him?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If he would stop writing me and giving me death threats...
BROWN: I know what I'm reading...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... and stalking me.
BROWN: ... you need to stop financing taking this man back into court. Get on with your own life. I'm looking at what's on these post cards. It is the same thing you put in your complaint, word for word almost. I'm not believing you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VAN SUSTEREN: Judge Brown, you just saw that sound bite of yourself. How long do these people have to argue these cases before you?
BROWN: I'd say we can usually deal with one between about 12 and maybe 35 or 45 minutes. That's about as long as it takes to get the issues out.
See, too often when you don't have an attorney you operate on emotions and emotional considerations rather than legal and factual ones. This woman right here had a problem with some personal issues, and she had been writing this guy all kinds of crazy notes. And it just didn't go the way she wanted, so she kept trying to find one more thing to deal with her emotional need to be right.
VAN SUSTEREN: All right, well I've written a list. You know, lawyers oftentimes get criticized about the justice system. Well I have a beef with the judges. I'm going to go down my list and see if you can help me out.
Let me go to you first, Judge Lane. Now there's an awful lot of complaint about dockets being crowded, that too many lawsuits are filed. Why can't you judges run your dockets faster?
LANE: Well, I think that's a fair statement. I think some cases should be dismissed as being non meritorious or frivolous. And I think, one, a lot of judges don't work hard enough, don't spend enough time, don't rule quickly enough and delay too much. I think that's right.
But the other side of that coin is some things, issues and cases, take consideration. There is no quick fix. If you litigate, you're entitled to litigate and you're entitled to have the issues explored completely. But if you're saying, can judges do a better job? The answer is, you bet.
VAN SUSTEREN: When you were a judge in a real court, Judge Lane, did you work on weekends and see other judges working on weekends?
LANE: I worked on weekends. I worked every weekend. We had some judges that worked weekends and some that didn't. I think judges should work depending on the cases they've got. If you've got a case that's due out or you have a trial starting Monday morning, and you haven't read the file, you haven't done the homework and done the research, you ought to be in there Saturday and if necessary Sunday. That goes with the territory.
VAN SUSTEREN: All right, Judge Mathis. Here's another one of my beefs with judges -- and this is the complaint that lawyers oftentimes get -- that we file frivolous lawsuits. Don't judges have the power to throw out frivolous lawsuits and even fine the lawyers and the litigants?
MATHIS: Yes, they do. But it's pretty difficult to determine from first sight whether the lawsuit is frivolous if you have not allowed discovery and for the litigants to present their evidence. So that's something you want to give an opportunity to occur before you just immediately dismiss a case. So I think that...
VAN SUSTEREN: Judge Mathis...
MATHIS: ... you have to be very careful.
VAN SUSTEREN: Judge Mathis, do you think that the lawyers sometimes get a little bit of the brunt when the judges are right in there causing some of these same problems?
MATHIS: When the judges are right?
VAN SUSTEREN: Yes, if they're -- if they have a crowded docket, they're not throwing out dismissed lawsuits when they have the ability to instead let it go to a jury. That's something the lawyers get criticized for. But aren't judges right in there in terms of part of the problem?
MATHIS: Well, I don't know if judges are a part of the problem with that. I think that the system itself, the justice system itself, is full of flaws, which -- administrative flaws, which if was focused on properly could be addressed.
For example, if you assign many of those cases to mediators, court-appointed mediators, prior to them coming before the judge, I think that could speed up dockets. And there are other remedies that if the justice system itself began to focus on ways to eliminate court dockets and to eliminate frivolous lawsuits, I think they could come up with some solutions.
You know lawyers, they're never short on ideas and words. They're wordsmiths by profession. So if you get a bunch of them in a room and get some conferences going on how to address it, I think we can come up with some solutions.
VAN SUSTEREN: We're going to take a break. We'll be right back with more of LARRY KING LIVE. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "JUDGE MATHIS")
MATHIS: I'm a real ex-street guy, and I know the deal. I've been to real jail. And that's where you're headed. And you're not even ready for it. You just stay in school, do the right thing and work hard and compete and you'll win, all right? That's what I did. I was out there on those streets until I made the right choice, got my GED, went back to school, went to college, went to law school, compete, worked hard, and I won, all right? So you can do the same thing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VAN SUSTEREN: Welcome back.
Judge Brown, what do you make of all the interest by the public in the unsolved murder of JonBenet Ramsey?
BROWN: Well, there's always this interest by general public types that, you know, you get into this thing with the unsolved murder mystery. That's why we read the things. We like to feel that everything is nice and tidy, but life is not nice and tidy. You may get killed walking across the street when you can get hit by a landing gear falling from an aircraft. But we can't get accept that everything is not wrapped up nice and neat, and sometimes there are things that never get resolved. It may get resolved, but it may never be.
VAN SUSTEREN: You know, Judge Brown, there are so many children, unfortunately, that have been killed since JonBenet Ramsey. We don't even know their name, and we know so much about the Ramsey death. Why is this the one that's captured the attention?
BROWN: Well, we like to get these designer issues. You know, in other words things that are above and beyond. We can cutesy pie them up and we can get ratings off of them. We can entertain with them, and we lose track of the fact that no one is better than anyone else. And all of the little children who are killed anywhere deserve equal time and attention to anyone, how some ever big of some kind of media status who may have the same thing happen to them.
VAN SUSTEREN: Judge Lane, a very perplexing legal issue in the state of Connecticut. Michael Skakel is accused of murdering the Moxley girl. At the time, he was a juvenile. Now he's an adult. Where do you try someone like this, because you can't put him in a juvenile facility if he were convicted, and, of course, he hasn't been and he may not be. But how -- where should we try him?
LANE: Well, in Nevada we do not have a juvenile jurisdiction. If you commit murder or attempted murder and you're a child, the juvenile court has no jurisdiction. You go right to adult court. But addressing it from Connecticut's point of view, in my opinion, there is an age below which you simply say, my gosh, what are we going to do? But if you commit murder and you are competent, I think you ought to be prosecuted as an adult. Now what happens to you down the road, whether you're incarcerated in an adult facility or not is another question.
In the beginning, I don't think any juvenile of kinder years, of young age like that, should be in an adult facility. I think that is in and of itself criminal. But if somebody goes to a juvenile facility in lockup and then thereafter they become an adult, maybe they can then be transferred to an adult facility.
But Connecticut law is not like Nevada law. In Nevada, if you commit murder or attempted murder you do not go to juvenile court, you go right to adult court.
VAN SUSTEREN: Judge Mathis, terrible tragedy in your state of Michigan, the young first-grader who shot his classmate, too young to prosecute. Is there an -- should there be a bright line when we will prosecute people for murder and when we will not?
MATHIS: Well, there is as it relates to age. And that is, as you probably know, they must be capable of understanding their actions. And this young first-grader clearly could not understand their actions.
But reflecting back on the Skakel case in Connecticut, I think it's very ironic and in fact it's a travesty of justice to be considering prosecuting this man as a juvenile, when here in the state of Michigan just a few months ago we prosecuted an 11-year-old as an adult. But now we're talking about prosecuting a 40-something-year- old in Connecticut as a juvenile in a murder case. I think that is a travesty of justice if that occurs and I'm against it totally. He should be prosecuted as an adult.
But yes, in terms of what age, it should be the age at which a young person can understand the consequences of their actions and understand what it is they're doing.
VAN SUSTEREN: We're going to take a break from our very distinguished panel of judges.
Stay with us, and we'll be taking your calls.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "JUDGE MILLS LANE")
LANE: Let's get it on.
Mr. Golab (ph), it's my understanding from the pre-trial information that you believe Mr Zeleo (ph) owes you $3,000 for half of the rent due on the place you're leasing?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
LANE: All right, let me hear your side of it. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The defendant, Angelo, used to be my best friend. But now the (EXPLETIVE DELETED)...
LANE: Hey, hey, hey.
You, sir, are a jackass. Let's start out with that observation. You say something like that one more time -- and let me tell you something else, I'm not necessarily final because I'm right, I'm right because I'm final. I'm it. You get nothing, zip, if I rule against you. I'm going to bounce your tail out of here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VAN SUSTEREN: Welcome back to LARRY KING LIVE. We have a fascinating panel of TV judges.
In Los Angeles, Judge Joe Brown. In Reno, Nevada we're joined by Judge Mills Lane, and in our Detroit bureau Judge Greg Mathis.
And let me go back to you, Judge Mathis. You're famous now. You're a TV judge. There's even been a musical written about you. Youngest man ever to be on the bench. What's it like to be famous for you?
MATHIS: Well, I don't like even the term referring to me as famous. I feel that yes, I have a little higher profile, a national platform, and I feel it's a blessing, but with a blessing comes a lot of responsibility. And that responsibility, I believe, is for me to return to others what has been given to me.
I want to help uplift young people and parents dealing with troubled young people all around the country to let them know and inspire them to know that they too can overcome life's challenges. My mother raised four boys in the toughest housing projects in Detroit alone by yourself. She did it with spiritual values and a value toward education. I want to show parents and young people that if they practice those same values, they too can overcome whatever obstacles they might face.
So let's drop the celebrity stuff and the stardom stuff, and let's get to doing the work that I've been called to do. And that is not only adjudicate and provide inspirational justice, but to uplift those who have been left behind.
VAN SUSTEREN: Judge Lane, you too are famous, but not just for being a judge. You are also -- you have another career, don't you?
LANE: Well, I was a referee. I've since retired from that. I was a fighter and I took up refereeing as a hobby after I retired from being a competitive fighter. And see, I've got no nose.
But then Tyson bit Holyfield, and after I took the TV show, I decided that I was just going to have to back off some.
But echoing what Judge Mathis said, I don't consider myself a celebrity. I'm just a country boy that had a heck of a break.
But I always say this: I don't care where you get, if you don't remember a lot of folks helped you get there, you're nothing but a damned ingrate. I'll never forget where I came from and the folks that helped me, and I feel very, very fortunate.
VAN SUSTEREN: Judge Brown, before you did TV you were a judge like the other two gentlemen, but you also have your eyes on the seat, being a mayor in your hometown. Are you going to run for mayor in Memphis?
BROWN: Well, people are trying to root me to do e just that. I like the current incumbent, Dr. W.W. Herenton, a former client of mine. He's a great mayor and he's in his third term and I hear he's not going to run for No. 4. I just have -- may have to make that step.
VAN SUSTEREN: Why would that be more fun or more interesting than being a TV judge?
BROWN: Well, my lifelong task has been to make a positive difference in the lives of others, and this is interesting. It's entertaining to do this. But the question will be resolved as to which can be more fruitful in getting this message out. You know, black, white, brown, red, yellow, we need to all work together to come back around and make America what it ought to be for this next century.
VAN SUSTEREN: All right. Well, let's bring a viewer into this discussion. We have on the phone a caller from Montrose, British Columbia. Caller, go ahead.
CALLER: Good evening. My question is, do you believe the courts have crossed the line from simply enforcing the laws into trying to make laws of their own?
VAN SUSTEREN: Judge Lane, do you want to answer that question?
LANE: Could you repeat please, Greta. I don't believe I heard it. Could you repeat...
VAN SUSTEREN: Well, let me -- whether or not -- caller, are you still there? Caller, give us the question again.
CALLER: Do you believe the law courts have crossed the line from simply enforcing the laws into trying to make laws of their own?
VAN SUSTEREN: In other words, judge, do we have activist judges, judges who think they're legislators and not supposed to interpret the law but do more?
LANE: That is a very good question from that lady. There are some judges that in my view do cross the line. They try to make up the law as they go along. Those judges, in my view, respectfully, do not honor their oath. Their oath is to construe the law and follow the law the legislature enacts. I think judges have some benign power, like to say that the lights have to be turned on, the county commission has to pay the bills so you can operate the court.
VAN SUSTEREN: But judge...
LANE: But I don't think -- oh, I'm sorry.
VAN SUSTEREN: Judge Lane, isn't though -- I mean, don't people oftentimes refer to activist judges as judges who do something they don't want done? I mean, isn't that sort of just an insult? Aren't those fighting words, things you say to a judge as an activist judge?
LANE: Well, judges take offense to that if they're called an activist judge. But the fact of the matter is if the shoe fits, you've got to put it on. There are judges that do that.
VAN SUSTEREN: Judge Brown, do you agree?
BROWN: I disagree. The original law of England and of the United States was the common law. The House of Lords in the 17th century said the common law is that body of judge-made law brought about by the interaction of tradition, precedent and the evolving conditions of society. And that has always been the tradition of England and America, that judges have made law as it is necessary to accommodate circumstances that have not been anticipated in the past.
MATHIS: Greta, I agree with Judge Brown. In fact, there is bad law. There's such a thing as bad law. And in such cases a judge must step beyond that bad law and create good law. The Jim Crowe laws of segregation years, that was bad law that prohibited blacks from drinking from the same fountains as whites. The poll taxes of the segregation years was bad law. The U.S. constitutional provision that said blacks were three-fifths of a human being, that was bad constitutional law.
So in many cases, you have bad law that needs to be overturned by a good judge.
VAN SUSTEREN: All right, well...
VAN SUSTEREN: Let me -- can you hold up for a second, Judge Lane?
VAN SUSTEREN: We're going to take a break. We'll be right back. There's an awful lot to talk about.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "JUDGE JOE BROWN")
BROWN: Why are you two no longer involved?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was a mutual breakup, but it was his decision. He said he was too busy and he didn't have time.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I never believed I was in a relationship, your honor, to be even breaking up.
BROWN: If you were being intimate with her for 2 1/2 years, you had a relationship.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It wasn't 2 1/2 months I was intimate with her.
BROWN: How long?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I hardly saw her.
BROWN: How long were you intimate with her?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The only times that I saw her was when I helped her out to drive her.
BROWN: And were you intimate with her on those occasions?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Three times a day.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On those occasions, no.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would hug her and kiss her on the cheek and say hi. That's normal, polite. That wasn't intimate to me. Just say hi. You know how you say hi to a regular person or you say hi to your aunt or somebody.
BROWN: I don't hug and kiss them and squeeze them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VAN SUSTEREN: Before we went to break, I told Judge Lane I would let him respond. Judge Lane, you had something to say?
LANE: Yes, I do. I think Judge Mathis is a good person. He's a friend of mine. And I assume he's a good judge. But if he thinks about what he just said, the Constitution is supreme law of the land. Judges don't change the Constitution. You amend the Constitution. Judges construe law with constitutional principles.
Now, when you say a bad law is a -- quote -- "bad law," who decides what a bad law is? You have public input and you do change law. Laws are changed all the time, but the legislature primarily makes the law.
I agree with Judge Brown. There is what you call "precedent," which is laws construed by judges based upon statute. But judges don't -- should not go willy-nilly changing the rules of the game if they happen to like to do. If you do that, in my view, you have anarchy, you have no real sound principles that we all operate under.
MATHIS: With all due respect, Judge Lane, if a lawyer comes into my courtroom quoting the U.S. Constitution, the part that said that blacks were three-fifths of a human being, I'd not only throw that law out, I'd throw him out.
LANE: They amended -- judge, they amended it.
MATHIS: Secondly -- I know they did. But I'm referring to when -- before the amendment, had I been a judge at that time.
Secondly, prior to women's ability to vote, had a lawyer come into my courtroom arguing against a woman's right to vote, based on some asinine part of the U.S. Constitution, I'd throw him out of my courtroom and I'd throw that U.S. -- that part of the U.S. Constitution out of my courtroom as well.
There is such a thing as bad portions of the U.S. Constitution as well, which I would not abide -- which I would not abide by.
LANE: Judge Mathis, if you believe that, sir, if you believe that, sir...
BROWN: I have to take issue with that.
LANE: ... respectfully -- just a minute. If you believe that, then you're wrong.
VAN SUSTEREN: Well, let me...
BROWN: I have to take issue with that
LANE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Joe, thank you.
VAN SUSTEREN: Let me bring Judge Brown into this -- judge.
MATHIS: You've never been a black or a woman, at least I don't think.
VAN SUSTEREN: Judge, can you judge this for us?
BROWN: Judge Mathis, one of things that a judge has to do is apply the Constitution. That's how laws get changed, is when the legislature passes a law that does not adhere to either their state or the U.S. Constitution.
BROWN: There are only certain things you can do. You can't change what the Constitution says. You have to do something above and beyond. That is the law of the land. Now, the United States constitution, along with its first 10 amendments and those that have followed, has pretty much dealt with human dignity and expanding the rights of all people. They expanded the franchise to people of non-white races. It expanded the franchise to the women. It has done things about restoring rights upon people that were not there.
But you can't do anything against the Constitution, because the Constitution is what makes America what it is.
VAN SUSTEREN: All right. Well, let's bring another caller into our discussion. We have a caller on the phone from Bethesda, Maryland.
CALLER: Hi, Greta. Your panel is fantastic tonight.
VAN SUSTEREN: They are!
CALLER: Yes, and my question is have any of you ever ruled on a case but later felt that you had made the wrong decision, and if so exactly how do you handle that?
VAN SUSTEREN: Judge Mathis?
MATHIS: Have I ever ruled on a case where I felt I made the wrong decision?
VAN SUSTEREN: That's right
MATHIS: Not that I can recall. I perhaps have felt that I may have given a sentence that might have been too harsh, but not a case where I have felt I applied the law incorrectly.
VAN SUSTEREN: Judge Brown, did you ever have the sense, though -- you make a decision in court, and as you're driving home that night, you think -- let's take sentencing -- that you wish you hadn't given the person five years, that perhaps you think the person now should only have two or should have gotten seven years. Do you have sort of that buyer's remorse in sentencing?
BROWN: Well, actually, if you think you've made a mistake, you need to be big enough to correct it and bring the parties back in and rectify it. But rest assured that what with appellate laws these days, if you made a mistake, an appellate court is going to tell you.
Now, frankly, self-assessment aside, I happen to have had the lowest reversal rate of any judge in the whole state of Tennessee. So yes, sometimes you do things you may look at and say, I could have done better, but it's a matter of balance: in other words, over a period of time, how well do you do and do you correct the mistake that you make.
VAN SUSTEREN: Judge Brown, when you were reversed, was that a horrible personal feeling for a judge to get reversed by a higher court? BROWN: No, it wasn't. I got reversed actually on four sentences. I gave a sodomist five years more than the supreme court said he should have gotten for sodomizing his stepson. A career burglar the max he could have gotten: They said it wasn't the worst case. They reduced it from 15 to 12 years. And another case where I found a person guilty of DUI and vehicular homicide, they said the DUI should have merged. And another one, which actually was interesting: I ordered someone to cooperate with the police. They said that added a personal danger element and I couldn't have that as part of the sentencing. Basically, that's it.
VAN SUSTEREN: All right. Well, we're going to take a break. We'll be right back with many more questions for our guests. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "JUDGE MATHIS")
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She canceled the phone because she thinks that I broke up with -- after I broke up...
MATHIS: Well, it was in her name, right?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's right.
MATHIS: She can cancel it when she wants to cancel it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, she canceled it because Brandy...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Your Honor, he's lying.
MATHIS: But how does that cause you to feel you're owed money by her because she decided to turn her phone off?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And he said...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's a good point, Your Honor.
MATHIS: Right. I know it's a good point. She didn't have a duty to keep you in business.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VAN SUSTEREN: Judge Lane, many people by now have seen the video of the INS agents going into the home to seize Elian Gonzalez. Based on what we know now from the footage -- and I understand that there's probably we don't know -- was that excessive force?
LANE: Well, first off I think they should have done it earlier. They shouldn't have waited as long as they did and have everybody become polarized. But if you have information that inside the home are guns and they're going to be used, if you have that information and you believe it has any credibility, you have to get in quick and get out quick before the shooting starts. So a show of force to get in, get out, I think, has to be done, because once the shooting starts, everything goes south. I think that's unfortunate.
If I might, Greta, that last question, if you make a mistake -- and I think I've made mistakes on the bench -- I agree with Judge Brown. You've got to be big enough to say I was wrong, have your administrative assistant get the lawyers, get the litigants back in, and be big enough to go on the record and correct it.
Nobody is infallible. The day you think you are you're in deep trouble.
VAN SUSTEREN: Let's go back to the phones to Culver City, California. Go ahead, caller.
CALLER: Yes, good evening. I'm a principal in the California school system and I work with students who've been released from juvenile camp facilities. This question is for Judge Mathis. The question was how can the public school system assist recent releasees from these facilities.
MATHIS: From juvenile facilities?
MATHIS: I think that they should focus on providing the types of resources that are necessary to rehabilitate those recent releases from juvenile to become productive citizens again: for example, remedial skills in areas where they're lacking, and in fact, in many instances some social service attention, such as counseling and conflict resolution seminars and things of that nature.
You know, in a real way, housing people in juvenile facilities and letting them out without rehabilitating them is doing a disjustice to taxpayers. When I was a juvenile and in jail, it cost $50,000 a year to house me. I learned nothing. They did not even force me to get a GED.
However, it wasn't until I got in college, it only cost $50,000 for my entire college degree. In both instances, I used taxpayers' money because I didn't have any. So it was more tax-efficient, however, for taxpayers to invest in my college education than my jail -- juvenile and jail retention.
And so in a real way, we must invest in the front side of life in our young people. And if they're not getting it from home, then we have to bring the resources to the next place they spend most of their time, and that's to school.
We'd like to bury our heads in the sand many times and say, well, it's the teachers' fault or it's the parents' fault, or the parents aren't doing it so we throw up our hands. Well, if the parents aren't doing it, we have to do it at the schools.
So I would encourage you to bring all the resources you can to those young people who are recently being released and don't give up on them because they all have the potential to be the next Judge Mathis.
VAN SUSTEREN: We're going to take another break. We'll be right back. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "JUDGE MILLS LANE")
LANE: Hey! Hey!
Ms. (UNINTELLIGIBLE), the same thing applies to you here.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm sorry, Your Honor.
LANE: Well, then -- OK. Then don't be sorry. Just don't have to be sorry, OK? Don't do it again!
Now the young people are one thing -- just a minute here. You people are adults, I think. And this is a place to decide conflicts. Act like adults or I'm going to run you out of here!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VAN SUSTEREN: Welcome back. I'm Greta Van Susteren, sitting in for Larry King, who has the evening off.
Judge Brown, are there two systems of justice in this country? One for white Americans and another one for minorities?
BROWN: Unfortunately, that is actually the case. I know in the 10 years that I presided over the criminal court bench that I had in Memphis, there would oftentimes be a distinctively different treatment for whites versus blacks. Really not -- I wouldn't say whites. Let's say those whites who had a certain economic status. In other words, if you came from a certain class or economic background, then you weren't treated the same as you would have been had you been poor and white or poor and black.
VAN SUSTEREN: Judge Lane, you know, I share the sentiments that Judge Brown just spoke. I practiced law for 17 years, and it was always easier to get probation for a white citizen than a black citizen with comparable background.
Why do we have these two systems of justice, or do we?
LANE: Well, I think, unfortunately, the application of the system sometimes is not fair. I think that's something that we have to work out -- work at very, very, very hard. As a matter of fact, I...
VAN SUSTEREN: How?
LANE: Well, I think you've get to get people on the bench, and the police and people in law enforcement to recognize that we're all Americans. We're not black Americans, white Americans, red Americans: We're all Americans. And I think we've got to be treated with dignity as Americans, and that has to do with the educational process of people on the bench, lawyers, people in law enforcement and people that have to do with the system.
We forget that and then we go back to nothing. I like to think that I'm an American, and I like to think that Joe Brown is and Greg Mathis is. And I don't call myself a white American; I call myself an American. And that's the way I want to be treated, and I think everybody is entitled to equal treatment, no matter who they are.
MATHIS: Greta, I -- Greta, I think that the justice system is a microcosm of the entire society, meaning it is reflective of what happens in all of society. In all of society, you have racism, sexism and classism. Therefore, in the legal community and in the justice system, you're going to see the same thing. And you do, racism...
VAN SUSTEREN: You know what, Judge Mathis? Judge Mathis, I know that, you know that. How do we fix that though? That's the problem. I mean, I think people can agree that the system isn't fair to everybody. How do we fix it and how do we do it quickly?
MATHIS: Well, I don't know if there is a quick fix. I think that we must approach it the same way we must approach it in general society, and that is educating citizens, educating lawyers, educating judges, making them sensitive to the cultural issues that are involved, perhaps cultural training, cultural sensitivity training in all of our courtrooms, in all of our justice systems, and among all of our police departments.
VAN SUSTEREN: Judge Lane, let me go back to a famous case, the O.J. Simpson case. How did Judge Ito do?
LANE: I think he did a terrible job. I think -- and of course, I'm not sitting where he's sitting. But I think he gave the gavel to Johnnie Cochran, Marcia Clark and Chris Darden, and said, run the show. I mean...
VAN SUSTEREN: Well, maybe they were aggressive lawyers then. I mean, a good aggressive lawyer tries to steal the courtroom from the judge. Maybe they're just good at doing it.
LANE: That's right. If you run -- if you give the gavel to a lawyer, they'll take it. If I'd have been on the bench, the guy -- the lawyer for O.J., not the -- the young man that was with Johnnie, he'd have gone to jail. At some point in time, I'd have said: That's it, my friend. One more time, the man in the green is going to take you -- Barry Scheck. Barry would have gone to the bucket if he had not got himself together.
He was rude. He was arrogant. He was obnoxious. And he was a travesty, in my opinion. I'd have locked him up.
VAN SUSTEREN: I think -- you and I have a different opinion, I guess, on Barry Scheck. But let me go to Judge Brown. Judge Brown, how do you think Judge Ito did in the Simpson case? BROWN: Well, he had a very difficult case. I can't walk in his shoes at this point in time. Frankly, (UNINTELLIGIBLE), when I practiced law, the judges kind of got in the way and I tried to run the courtroom. But there is a right of doing it and a wrong way of doing it, and I always loved as a judge to see vigorous and effective advocacy, passionate advocacy, and I never had a problem with that.
Now, frankly, I have a different style of control, and it's a matter of personal presence and exercise of will through the court that you use to keep control. It's like, "Do they respect you as a member of their profession, and do they respect you as a person who is there to be the referee, the umpire of the proceedings, and also to pass on what law is to apply to what's going on?"
VAN SUSTEREN: Judge Mathis, in the 25 seconds we have left, federal judges appointed for life by the president. Some state judges are elected. What's better? Lifetime appointments or elections?
MATHIS: I think a mixture of both is not bad. With regard to federal judges, I'm in favor of lifetime appointments, and with regard to state judges I'm in favor of a mixture of appointments and elections, not lifetime appointments in states, however. With regard to federal government, I think it's good because they primarily must go by the U.S. Constitution and not state statutes.
VAN SUSTEREN: All right. Well, many thanks to my three judges tonight: Judge Joe Brown in Los Angeles, Judge Mills Lane in Nevada, and Judge Greg Mathis in Detroit.
That's all the time we have for tonight, and Larry King will be back tomorrow night. He just had one night off. Stay tuned for "NEWSSTAND" next.
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