She’s one of the toughest women on TV - but Judge Judy’s co-star has shared an incredible behind-the-scenes story about her.
After witnessing 12,500 cases as the bailiff to TV’s Judge Judy, one in particular stands out for Petri Hawkins Byrd — one in a Manhattan courtroom 33 years ago.
Byrd, then a real-life court officer working in family court shortly before Christmas, observed arguments over a 9-year-old boy named Harry, who tried to steal a bike on Staten Island and had nowhere to go.
“The sun had gone down. It was after 5 o’clock, we’re trying to figure out what to do with this boy,” Byrd recalled to The Post.
Byrd’s partner turned to him and said, “You know what that kid needs? You.”
“He’s a little black kid. I’m the only other black person in the room,” said Byrd, who was married with a 1-year-old son at the time.
After consultations among the judge, lawyers and his supervisor, Byrd became the child’s temporary guardian. He took Harry to his Fort Greene apartment where he stayed for a few months until a family member came forward to care for the boy.
“It worked out,” he said. “It was just a matter of me being in the right place at the right time.”
THE LETTER THAT CHANGED EVERYTHING
Good timing also brought Byrd, 62, his role on Judge Judy, which is about to enter its 25th and final season. In the US, the show 9 million viewers a day who tune in for Judith Sheindlin’s acerbic wit and biting comments to a parade of plaintiffs.
Byrd first appreciated the sharp tongue of Sheindlin when he was assigned to her Manhattan courtroom in the 1980s.
“The stuff that would fly out of her mouth was just incredible,” he said.
Byrd moved to Northern California with his family in 1990, working first for the US Marshal Service and then as a high school counsellor. On a break one day, he read a gossip column item about Sheindlin starring in a courtroom TV show and faxed her a congratulatory note.
He closed it by writing “PS, If you ever need a bailiff, I still look good in uniform.”
Sheindlin called a few weeks later telling him, “‘We do need a bailiff. We tried it with an actor during the pilot. It’s an unscripted show and he didn’t quite know how to manoeuvre with me,‘” he recalled her saying.
Byrd was a hit with the judge, and with viewers. He often stands quietly at the bench, calling cases, passing papers to Sheindlin and sometimes working a crossword puzzle.
“I don’t do much,” he said. “They actually pay me very handsomely for what I don’t do.”
He denied reports that he is paid $US1 million a year.
As the plaintiffs hash out disputes over stolen money, purloined pets and damaged goods, Byrd often wonders what’s coming next from the sharp-tongued jurist.
“I’m just curious as to where she’s going, what smart remark or what ammunition is going to come out of her,” he said.
Sheindlin told The Post she swears by her bailiff.
“Byrd and I have been in sync for 35 years. We get each other. It makes working together a joy,” she said.
Byrd, who also does stand-up comedy and sings, isn’t sure what’s next after this final season wraps. He’s been doing a weekly show on Instagram with his third wife, Makita Bond, called Bonding with Byrd.
A graduate of John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Byrd said he was always interested in the entertainment field, but his mother encouraged him to have a steadier job.
“It never really came to fruition until I wrote that fateful letter and answered that phone call that day from Judge Judy Sheindlin,” he said. “I definitely have her to thank for opening up doors that I would have thought were closed to me.”
This story originally appeared on the New York Post and is republished here with permission.