Belvin Perry Jr.
What kind of judge does it take to temper the media circus that is the Casey Anthony trial? The no-nonsense Belvin Perry Jr. presided over the tangled proceedings with aplomb. Perry, the chief judge of Florida’s Ninth Circuit, has emerged as a formidable take-no-prisoners figure in the seemingly endless trial—and with an apparent fan club, too. "Judge Perry is my homeboy” is written across T-shirts sold outside the trial, reported People magazine, thanks to the 61-year-old’s frank style. And, frankly, Perry doesn’t give a damn: After Anthony’s defense attorney, Jose Baez, and prosecutor Jeff Ashton wasted time bickering in court, the judge reportedly called them out: “There has been gamesmanship in this particular case, and it is quite evident there is a friction between attorneys." His cranky demeanor doesn’t stop with the judge playing referee. Jurors looking forward to a little Independence Day were disappointed when Perry insisted on starting closing arguments over the weekend—with no fewer than 16 restrictions over what the sides are permitted to present in their arguments. After two months of laying down his own law in the courtroom, His Honor deserves a disco nap when this case is closed.
“I am the trier of fact” are just a few of the famous words uttered by crusading judge Larry Seidlin during the custody trial for Anna Nicole Smith’s remains and her daughter, Dannielynne. After the Playboy-pinup-turned-reality-star died of a drug overdose in 2007, Seidlin presided over Smith’s wannabe boyfriend and drug supplier Howard K. Stern’s bid to get her remains instead of seeing them go to actual baby daddy Larry Birkhead. It turns out you can take the former cabdriver out of his native Bronx, but you can’t take the Bronx out of the judge. Seidlin gave the lawyers nicknames, dubbing them “California” and “Texas,” and TMZ even reported he was angling for his own Judge Judy–style show. But few were prepared for his last stand on the stand—when discussing where he thought Smith ought to be buried, Seidlin broke down in tears. Don’t expect to see Judge Larry on TV any time soon.
All rise for TV’s favorite—and testiest—judge. Equipped with her gavel and fiery attitude, Judge Judith Sheindlin has dominated daytime TV's courtroom-drama genre with her own outspoken brand of the law. Thanks to her reputation as a forthright New York family-court judge, Sheindlin scored her own CBS show in 1996 and has since been nominated for 15 Daytime Emmy Awards. Trying cases from petty claims to marital clashes, Judge Judy is known for lashing out at defendants and audience members alike. And it hasn’t hurt her a bit: The New York Times reported that she makes $45 million a year and beat out Oprah’s last season in ratings. But her ornery courtroom manner is based in love: “I really feel sorry for people who become involved in the meshed minutiae that ruin their lives,” she told the Times.
Leslie Crocker Snyder
Move over, Judge Judy—there’s another feisty New York judge in the chambers. Dubbed “Dragon Lady” and “232” (the number of years she once sentenced a defendant to), Snyder served as a judge on the New York Supreme Court from 1986 to 2003 before running for Manhattan district attorney (and losing twice). Her tough-on-crime reputation might have earned her a free pass to slam her gavel as hard as she wants: she was the first woman to prosecute homicides and went on to found the district attorney’s sex-crimes unit, the first of its kind in the country. “She once told a convicted rapist and murderer that she wanted to administer a lethal injection with her own hands,” The New York Times wrote. Watch her ferocity in action at a press conference as she addresses breaking up the old boys' club. You don’t earn the nickname “Queen of Lockdown” for nothing.
Do not try to get cute with Judge Joe Brown. The former Memphis prosecutor’s show is the courtroom version of Jerry Springer—and possibly the more cantankerous alternative to Judge Judy. While Judge Judy offers advice to her defendants, this judge goes straight for the jugular. Brown initially gained national attention for presiding over the appeal of Martin Luther King Jr.’s murderer and still rules over famous figures like Rick James and Tiger Woods’ mistress. The judge never hesitates to teach his defendants a lesson. During one case, he slammed a young man being sued for pouring liquor on his friend's floor: “You running around here trying to perpetrate the jury—an ignorant 'hood rat that got as far as college, but you can’t talk anymore”—and that’s before the defendant made fun of his robe.
Behold: the world’s most watched judge. Before making a splash presiding over O. J. Simpson’s trial for the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, Judge Lance Ito rose from a difficult beginning in a Japanese internment camp to become a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge. Early on in the trial, Ito made clear who was in charge. He “made a series of moves that required all the gaman (perseverance) he could muster,” U.S. News wrote, by denying the defense’s request to throw away blood samples and suspend jury selection. But that was just the beginning for the judge who got his own Jay Leno “Dancing Itos” segment. He would go on to threaten to ban the use of TV cameras in the courtroom, abruptly adjourning court to show he meant business. Watch Ito in action at the iconic reading of Simpson’s verdict.