Talent agent Richard Lawrence and his company Rebel Entertainment Partners initially filed the lawsuit in March 2016, arguing that CBS and CBS Television Studios’ production company Big Ticket Television had denied the talent agency profits from Judge Judy. According to the lawsuit, the agency claimed it was entitled to a five percent share of the show’s net profits, but because of the way Sheindlin’s massive yearly earnings are structured, net profits of the show are wiped out after deductions.
According to Variety, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Joanne O’Donnell wrote in her Tuesday ruling: “That Judge Sheindlin is paid more than other television hosts does not establish her salary is unreasonable.”
“Her present salary was the result of arms-length negotiation and Judge Sheindlin’s final ‘take-it-or-leave-it offer,” O’Donnell wrote, according to court documents obtained by The Hollywood Reporter. “Plaintiff has presented no evidence that the salary was negotiated in bad faith or is unreasonable in light of the undisputed ‘resounding success’ of Judge Judy and the fact that without its namesake star the show could not continue.”
In a brief filed in August, THR reported that CBS and Big Ticket previously said that the talent agency’s “only connection with Judge Judy was its representation of three original show producers in 1995,” adding that the agency “has collected nearly $20 million in upfront commission and back-end participation payments. Indeed, Rebel has received more than $1.1 million in payments in the year since it filed the Complaint in this action.”
“Rebel cannot dispute that the salary paid to Judge Sheindlin was the salary necessary to keep Judge Judy on the air, and, ironically, the salary necessary for Rebel to continue to earn millions of dollars in upfront commissions that would disappear were the show to end,” continued the brief.
During her March 2016 testimony, Sheindlin candidly opened up about her rise to stardom and why her $47 million-a-year salary is justified.
“They pay me the money that they do because they have no choice,” she said, according to a transcript obtained by THR last August.
“They can’t find another one. They’ve tried to find another Judy. If they find another Judy, good for them. So far they haven’t,” she continued. “And until they do, they have their local news on all their O&Os [owned-and-operated stations]. They have international, which we’re involved with the — the Judy program is all over the world, and even though they had to take a deep breath, they paid the money because they know otherwise. I’d take the same people with me that are producing the show now and I’d go and do it myself.”
The TV star revealed that she renegotiates her salary with CBS every three years.
“We go to the Grill on the Alley with the president of the company,” she said. “We sit across the table, and I hand him the envelope and I say, ‘Don’t read it now, let’s have a nice dinner. Call me tomorrow. You want it, fine. Otherwise, I’ll produce it myself.’ That’s the negotiation.”
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However, not every issue brought up in the lawsuit has been resolved.
The March 2016 lawsuit also highlighted the issue with how the syndicated show is licensed to CBS affiliates and why Rebel is not being compensated from the Sheindlin-created series Hot Bench.
“The Court cannot conclude as a matter of law that Hot Bench is not an ‘episodic television series’ which is ‘based upon or derived from’ Judge Judy,” O’Donnell wrote in the court ruling, according to THR.
In statement provided to THR, Rebel’s attorney Bryan Freedman said they are “pleased that the court denied CBS’ attempt to eliminate Rebel’s substantial interest in Hot Bench,” but that they “will never let go” of their claim that Sheindlin’s salary was excessive and hindered them from receiving their “rightful bargained for share of profits.”