For a long time running (25 years to be specific), Judith Sheindlin, fondly known by the name of her highly rated show, "Judge Judy," has been the queen of courtroom reality TV. Somewhere between presiding over children who sue their parents for bad credit and audacious men who use their exes’ rings to propose, Judge Judy Sheindlin managed to carve a solid niche, earning herself a net worth in the neighborhood of $440 million.
More fascinating than the No. 1 show she created is her 45-year marriage to fellow arbitrator Jerry Sheindlin. In an industry where unions are rarely without rumors and controversy, the couple has maintained a squeaky clean image. Both of them took a second chance at love. She was previously married to Ronald Levy, who wasn’t supportive of her career. They grew apart, and she said, "I think, as most men, he didn’t want his life interrupted" (per Fox). Jerry Sheindlin, on the other hand, was married to Suzanne Rosenthal, with whom he stayed for 12 years. How have the Sheindlins managed to make it work? Here are the finer details of the love story between two people who have every right to judge.
Judge Judy and Jerry Sheindlin met at a bar
The Sheindlins’ first encounter was as far from "love at first sight" as anyone can get. Fate had it that the pair would meet at a lawyers’ hangout. At the time, he was a defense lawyer and she was a prosecutor. Fresh from trying a case, Jerry Sheindlin was having a chat with a New York Post journalist when his future wife boldly approached him. She "put her finger in my face" and asked, "And who is this?" Her impolite gesture seemed unwelcome. Speaking to Extra back when they were only four grandchildren in, Jerry revealed that his response was a stern, "Lady, get your finger out of my face."
Thanks to her audacious nature, Judge Judy Sheindlin didn’t know it at the time, but she had met the love of her life. She was drawn to him because "he was cute-looking, and he had shiny shoes." In an interview with Katie Couric, Judge Judy admitted to having been really impressed by his shiny shoes. And although her boldness could have been off-putting, Jerry was quick to fall in love after their brief encounter. The couple found a way to merge their lives together, with their children being at the top of their priority list. "We both agreed that if the five children did not get along, we would just say goodbye, it’s been a nice try," he said.
She became a stepmom to his children
While she maintains a no-nonsense attitude in the courtroom, Judge Judy Sheindlin has always had a motherly instinct. On Fox’s "OBJECTified," she emphasized that it was important for her to have both a solid career and a successful chance at growing a family. "I felt that if I worked hard I could have both. I could have a family because that was important to me. And, I could have a career. I just felt it."
When her career was still in its infancy and not going as planned, she did the usual thing women did if they wanted to leave a job: she became a mother. From her first marriage, Judge Judy has two children, daughter Jamie and son Adam. In 1976, her marriage to Ronald Levy came to an end. She cozied up to Jerry Sheindlin a year later, eventually tying the knot. Marrying him came with three bonus children from his side. Between their five children are a total of 13 grandchildren.
Career-wise, some of Judge Judy’s children are a chip off the old block. Adam Levy, Gregory Sheindlin, and Nicole Sheindlin are all in the legal profession, while Jamie Hartwright and Jonathan Sheindlin pursued different paths. Unlike their arbitrator siblings, Jamie and Jonathan tend to lead private lives.
Judge Judy and Jerry Sheindlin divorced in 1990
In family law, Judge Judy Sheindlin found a home. "I love the family court. It’s not that I love mystery, it’s just that I thought that I had found a home. I was not a math scholar, science was not my strong suit, but I understand what motivates people, and I understand social interaction," she said at a 92nd Street Y interview. Years before she would land her own show and preside over conflicting couples, she ran into family troubles of her own.
Judge Judy had a strong bond with her father, Murray Blum, who was a dentist by profession. He and her mother were married for 48 years. From him, she got the subtle urge to make something of herself. "I think my father always in his head thought that I would be something different," Judge Judy fondly recalled. Given the nature of Judge Judy and her father’s special relationship (it was so deep, she wore his glasses for the first few years she spent on the bench), when he passed away in 1990, she was disappointed that she didn’t receive enough support from Jerry Sheindlin. In the book "What Makes a Marriage Last" by Phil Donahue and Marlo Thomas, Jerry recalls that he was given an ultimatum: "If you can’t maneuver this, I’m going to divorce you," (via E News). Within a day, their divorce papers were ready.
The couple remarried a year later
Their time apart was short-lived. Within a year, Judy and Jerry Sheindlin remarried and have been inseparable since. The reason she made the decision to get back with Jerry was simple: It’s impossible to teach an old dog new tricks, or, as she mentioned to Marlo Thomas and Phil Donahue, "Like they say, don’t try to teach a pig to sing. It doesn’t work and it just annoys the pig," (via E News). For his part, Jerry had missed his wife. "I missed her presence the very first week that we were separated," he confessed. And when he heard of the bad dates she’d been on during his absence, he was certain that they belonged together.
Part of Judge Judy’s marriage to Jerry comes with the understanding that, when the robe comes off, she wears the pants. At home, though, she embodies a softer side that’s hardly seen on television, according to her husband. "She’s not as tough and as ruthless as perhaps some people may think she is … There is no question, but in my house, in my castle, in my home, she does (wear the pants)," Sheindlin told Extra.
She landed her critically acclaimed show with his support
Unlike Judge Judy Sheindlin’s first marriage where she had to dumb it down and shove her dreams to the side, marrying Jerry Sheindlin came with the added advantage of pursuing her dreams to her greatest potential. According to a past interview, Judge Judy is an avid fan of "The West Wing." Going into the reality space, however, she knew there was no script. She couldn’t "West Wing" her way on television. Her personality was the hidden armor she needed to make it work.
Jerry has been at the center of influencing some of the decisions she makes. For instance, the thought had crossed her mind as to whether she should produce "Judge Judy" independently, to which they both agreed, "I’m much happier keeping my life simple."
Keep it simple she did, for two decades and beyond, sometimes going on a numbers battle against Oprah Winfrey, whose ratings for "The Oprah Winfrey Show" gave other daytime television hosts a run for their money. Judge Judy’s success with her show had everything to do with a burning passion for her work. At the Forbes Women Summit, she had noteworthy words of wisdom for the younger generation. "Find something that you’re naturally good at, figure out how to make a living at it." As of 2022, Judge Judy hasn’t hung her boots just yet. As of November 2021, she is the host of "Judy Justice," a spin-off that’s set for a second season, given its high ratings (per Deadline).
Jerry Sheindlin hosted a rival show
Despite the immense support he gave wife Judge Judy Sheindlin, Jerry Sheindlin had dreams of his own, and some of them rivaled hers. In the fall of 1999, he began presiding over "The People’s Court." He’d taken over from the previous judge, Mayor Ed Koch, who’d ended his two-year run and similarly had a war of ratings with "Judge Judy." Koch had his own history with the Sheindlins, having appointed both of them to the New York City Criminal Court many years prior. Speaking to the Los Angeles Times, Sheindlin revealed that the ingenious idea to rival his wife was in fact her own. "She is the one who told me I should do it," he told the publication.
Not that Jerry Sheindlin wasn’t qualified to run his own show. By the time the offer came around, he’d put in just as much work. Then in his mid-60s, he was an experienced arbitrator in his own right, who’d handled up to 150 cases every week. "The People’s Court," he said, was a relief from the heavy workload he was used to. A two-day workweek was welcomed with open arms. In the two years that followed, "The People’s Court" went head-to-head with "Judge Judy," much to Jerry’s thrill.
The couple has made investments together
By virtue of being the highest-paid television host as of 2018 (via Forbes), Judge Judy Sheindlin knows how to spend her money as much as she makes it. It wouldn’t make much sense to have a $440 million net worth and let it lie around. In 2018, Judge Judy famously purchased a $9 million Rhode Island mansion just because she wanted to. According to Page Six, hers was the highest sale made by the state that year.
The piece of real estate is but only a drop in the bucket, given the couple’s extensive portfolio. In 2010, the couple sold their Sutton Place penthouse for a reported $2.25 million (per New York Post). E! reports that Judy and Jerry Sheindlin own at least six homes across the United States — two properties in Naples, including a four-bedroom penthouse that boasts an enclosed lagoon, a $10 million, five-bedroom condo in Los Angeles, a duplex on the Upper East Side (New York), and a nine-bedroom manor in Greenwich that serves as their main home.
Judge Judy hasn’t gone a day without red lipstick
Judge Judy Sheindlin maintains that red lipstick is the glue that holds her marriage together. "We’ve been married 40 years, and he’s never seen me without my hair combed or lipstick on," she told Closer Weekly. What she wishes there was more of, however, is good skincare. "I feel young, except when I look in a full-length mirror … you know that you can keep yourself fit and in shape, they haven’t invented anything yet that keeps your skin in shape," she said in a conversation with talk show host Ellen DeGeneres.
Judge Judy believes that people have one of two choices as they get older. They can either be like her grandmother, who "had breasts that started at her neck and stopped at her knees" (via Ellen), or abide by the words that have kept her going: "Age is just a number." She attributes her approach toward aging to Florence Henderson, who gave her the affirmation she needed that age was more about how she felt on the inside as opposed to the numbers that kept going up with each passing year. "I remember having dinner with Flo when she turned 70," where Henderson said, "’Judy, 70 is the new 50. And it’s just a number.’"
Jerry’s required to stay in shape
Judge Judy Sheindlin isn’t the only one expected to look fabulous in her marriage. It’s a 50/50 tie between red lipstick and staying in shape. Jerry Sheindlin is expected to "keep a reasonable physique or else he’s out the door," according to the fearless judge’s interview with Closer Weekly. With all the years she’s been with him, her love hasn’t wavered, partly because he takes care of himself. "I still like to see him walk into a room. He looks good."
Maintaining a good physique, as it turns out, is the gift that keeps on giving, if the couple’s sex life is anything to go by. In an exclusive chat with Daily Mail, Jerry Sheindlin revealed that the two seem to have kept the passion alive, even after all these years. The judge had alluded to the fact that her bedroom was the only place in the house that was void of the numerous awards she has received for her exemplary work (an Emmy included), to which Jerry said, " No awards? She just gave me an award last night. I just don’t understand this. I’m going to have to talk to her about that."