Law News

Judge Judy Overruled By Judge Jeffrey

by Cerisse Anderson
New York Law Journal
March 17, 2000
Law Net News

Judith Sheindlin -- also known by her television audience as Judge Judy -- is used to getting the last word.

But not this time.

Judge Jeffrey S. Sunshine of Brooklyn Family Court rejected the argument of a mother of an 8-month-old child that issues of custody, visitation and child support had been resolved on the "Judge Judy" show, a television program presided over by Sheindlin, former supervising judge of the Manhattan Family Court.

Writing in B.M. v. D.L., V-17914/99, filed in Family Court, Kings County, Judge Sunshine said that although Judge Judy had agreed when B.M. said he would pay temporary child support because he was a "class guy" and entered a temporary visitation schedule, the discussion relating to visitation and child support was "a collateral issue over which the television judge did not have jurisdiction."

B.M. and D.L., abbreviations used by the court for publication of his decision, appeared on the Feb. 23 episode of the syndicated program seen in New York City on WNBC-TV. Sunshine noted that the purpose of the couple's appearance was to resolve B.M.'s $1,000 claim for the value of wedding gifts and pictures.

Citing the agreement both parties signed before appearing on the show, he said, "the arbitration agreement was clear that the issues being resolved by the television arbitration were civil property issues."

B.M.'s petitions before the Family Court for visitation, custody and another proceeding by D.L. for child support were subjects beyond the agreement to arbitrate, the judge said.

He rejected D.L.'s argument "that by agreeing to allow the television judge/arbitrator to 'rule' on questions of visitation and child support the parties tacitly agreed to allow the arbitration to be extended to allow these issues to be arbitrated."

The judge said that "the concept that the parties orally consented to expand the authority of the arbitrator must be rejected as a matter of law and against public policy," citing the Appellate Division, Second Department's 1993 holding in Glauber v. Glauber, 192 AD2d 94.

That court ruled that contracts entered into by parents with respect to the fate of their children are not binding on the courts.

"Notwithstanding the fact that the arbitrator here is a former Judge of this court, the forum as presented is wholly improper for issues involving custody and visitation. There was no benefit of home studies or forensic evaluations, and the television appearance deprives the parties of their right to counsel during the appearance and the right to cross examine," Sunshine said.

"It is clear that it was not the intent of the parties by their actions and deeds to resolve the Family Court issues and the court highly doubts if it was the intent of the arbitrator to issue a binding decision on the issues which properly remain before this court," he added.

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