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  • Writer's pictureJudge Michael Donio

Ask the Judge: Are court TV shows real?

My in-laws keep posting our kids’ pictures on social media. We have asked them not to do it because we don’t want our kids—ages 2, 4 and 6—to be plastered on the internet. They totally ignore me and my husband. What can we do? Do we have legal options?

Legal options? Are you suggesting filing some kind of lawsuit against your in-laws?

I think the easiest way to resolve this is to have a big Sunday dinner with a lot of pasta and maybe meatballs and sausage. Have everyone sit around the table and bring up the mater casually. Explain to them that, in today’s society, you don’t know who will go on the internet and see that you have three young children. Explain that you have heard and read of things happening as a result that could be detrimental to your kids. I would think that the last thing the grandparents want for their grandchildren is to put them in harm’s way in any way, shape or form.

I would not use the words “legal,” or “legal intervention” or “court” at all in that discussion. If you can’t work something like this out over Sunday dinner, then something is seriously wrong with all of us.

Do not go to court over this.

Are court TV shows like we see on “The People’s Court”

or “Judge Judy” real, or are they actors?

My understanding is that these are real people with real cases.

The one thing that is not real is the verdict that is rendered being paid for by the litigants. My understanding is that the show goes through the dockets of cases that are filed in small claims court and picks out ones that they think would be interesting on TV. The people are then contacted and provided transportation out to California where the shows are taped. They sign an agreement that basically says that they are waiving their rights to go to court and that the case will be adjudicated by “The People’s Court” or “Judge Judy” and that the show will pay the damages of the person who loses in the courtroom.

The cases look real to me.

When I first went on the bench for the first year or two, I did small claims cases, and that is the type of thing that comes before the court. It is usually over something insignificant and, many times, silly. It is a low monetary amount.It is usually what we call he-said/she-said. They seem to be rather a waste of precious court time, but the court has to be open to all people of all races per all types of cases. We would hear them, take a brief recess, then tell the people they should talk to each other. Many times, when I came out to make a decision, they would report to me that the case was settled.

I am a firm believer that insignificant cases can be resolved by people just talking to each other. However, there are many cases through the legal system that cannot ever be settled and must be tried by a judge or jury. The court, however, has to be opened for all types of cases.

Judge Michael Donio served as a New Jersey State Superior Court Judge for 20 years before retiring on July 31, 2015. He now operates a legal consulting and mediation firm on the White Horse Pike. Donio can be reached by calling (609) 481-2919. Send your questions for his columns to


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