Following the debut of Judge Joe Brown in 1998, the courtroom drama’s namesake judge became an overnight reality TV star. Between his Southern drawl and no-nonsense attitude, the former Tennessee Criminal Court judge and arbiter, who was 51 at the time his show premiered, was transformed into a household name. For 15 years, he delivered plenty of courtroom action, but simply could not seem to step out of the shadow of his biggest rival, Judge Judy. As The Hollywood Reporter learned, Judge Joe Brown was second in ratings to Judge Judy for a whopping 739 consecutive weeks — that’s over 14 years, basically his entire show’s run. Eventually, CBS simply pulled the plug on the show in 2013 following a salary dispute with Brown.
As of 2019, Judge Brown’s career has failed to really recover, despite his efforts to relaunch it. And that may have something to do with the real-life drama that has followed him around for years. From having a major meltdown in court to spending five nights in jail, Brown knows how to make headlines for all the wrong reasons. It’s time to uncover the shady side of Judge Joe Brown.
Cameras caught Judge Joe Brown acting like a hot mess
Following 15 years on the air, CBS axed Judge Joe Brown in March 2013 due to a salary dispute. The Hollywood Reporter noted that Brown had been earning $20 million a year, but CBS Television Distribution was looking to chop the figure down to match falling viewership ratings. When « negotiations on a new contract broke down, » they pulled the plug altogether, triggering a headline-making meltdown from the reality TV star.
Cameras caught a seemingly intoxicated Brown boasting about drinking « double Bombay Sapphire and tonic » and slamming his old show. When the man filming him joked, « I’m not guilty, » World Star Hip Hop reported (via the Daily Mail) that Brown shot back, « F**k that — I quit … I do not do that bulls**t anymore. » When two women approached him for a photo, the situation got even more uncomfortable with the then-66-year-old telling them, « I need you girls to be my daughters-in-law so you can take care of a man in his old age, » adding, « An old man can be a bad motherf**ker. Oh hell yes. Make an old man feel like a bad motherf**ker. »
He concluded with a piece of wisdom, proclaiming, « Pretty women are insecure. It’s easier to deal with pretty women if you know what to do. Now you see my 50-year-old wife? I do not deal with ugly women. » Yikes.
He had a meltdown in court
In March 2014, what was supposed to be a regular hearing with Judge Joe Brown representing a woman in a child support case turned into a scene worthy of reality TV when he went off the rails. Brown had a major outburst inside Tennessee’s Shelby County Juvenile Court, which resulted in him being arrested and charged with five counts of contempt of court, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Analyzing official court papers detailing the charges brought against Brown, E! News learned that the former TV personality was accused of « willfully and intentionally baiting the court, » as well as « willful misconduct clearly intended to embarrass, hinder and obstruct the administration of justice. »
According to Juvenile Court Chief Magistrate Dan Michael, who spoke with The Commercial Appeal (via ABC News), upon his arrival, Brown took his sweet time meeting people and campaigning for votes before entering the courtroom. Brown was running for Shelby County District Attorney at the time. Following a 20-minute wait, he started complaining to Magistrate Judge Harold « Hal » Horne about the delay. According to Michael, Brown « began a diatribe against Mr. Horne and the authority of the court » and continued acting up after being asked to desist. « He all but had that courtroom in a riot, » Michael recalled.
Judge Joe Brown railed against another judge
Despite repeated warnings that legal action would be taken against him if he didn’t quiet down during his in-court outburst, Brown reportedly escalated his verbal attack against Juvenile Court Magistrate Judge Harold Horne. « Excuse me, on what authority do you sit by the way? » he asked Horne, as evidenced by court records obtained by E! News. Brown reportedly challenged, « As a former judge here, we have a rule in the 30th Judicial District — it says every single Magistrate Referee has to be unanimously approved by every Circuit, Chancery, and Criminal Court Judge. »
Brown’s tirade continued as he became increasingly disrespectful, claiming, « I don’t recall that your name’s ever been submitted, sir. This tribunal on a General Sessions Court’s authority is insufficient to establish you. Therefore, I challenge your authority to hear it. » With Horne summoning the bailiffs, Brown continued, « Go find the law or I’m reporting you to the Court of 3 Judiciary. I’ll have you charged with violation of process … This sorry operation needs to stop. » From there, the bizarre exchange saw Horne sentencing Brown to time behind bars, with additional days being added as he continued making rude comments. The tally was at four days when Brown taunted, « You don’t have the jurisdiction I had to do it. You’ve got to be up above a trial judge. » That brought his sentence up to five days, at which point security officers removed him from the courtroom.
Tennessee ‘disabled’ him from practicing law
Tennessee said buh-bye to Judge Joe Brown in June 2016, when the state’s Supreme Court barred him from practicing law in Tennessee and placed him on « disability inactive status, » according to The Commercial Appeal. As the outlet explained, the verdict was sparked by his diabetes. Production company Celebritunity stated that the decision was made because « Judge Brown is suffering from what hopefully will prove to be a temporary disability as a result of complications following from Type II Diabetes and the effects of prescribed medication for the condition combined with hypertension and stress. » The status meant that Brown was « temporarily disabled and incapacitated from practicing law, » up until the moment he could prove to the Supreme Court that the disability was no longer present.
Interestingly, according to The Commercial Appeal, Brown reported the issue himself while he had a « petition for discipline pending against him » due to his March 2014 court outburst. This, in turn, meant the petition was « suspended indefinitely » until he was able to revert back to active status.
Judge Joe Brown’s appeal was shut down
Following his March 2014 outburst in Tennessee court, Judge Joe Brown was slapped with not one, not two, but five contempt of court charges, which he then tried to appeal … without success. As WMC Action News 5 reported in March 2015, a year after the incident initially took place, local judges refused to hear Brown’s case, and, once it got in front of the Tennessee Court of Appeals, the initial charges were upheld, sending Brown behind bars for five nights (via USA Today).
As court papers from the appeal explained, « An attorney was summarily punished for direct criminal contempt. The attorney appeals, alleging numerous procedural errors and claiming that his actions did not rise to the level of contemptuous behavior. » The verdict: Brown was out of luck and heading behind bars after all. The official conclusion stated that « the decision of the juvenile court is hereby affirmed and remanded for further proceedings. »
Move over, Nelson Mandela
Apparently, Judge Joe Brown fancies himself to be quite the remarkable human being. When he turned himself in to complete his short jail sentence at Shelby County Corrections Center in late August 2015, he was met by a group of supporters holding signs, like « Judge Joe stood up for justice » and « #ISupportJoe Judge Joe Brown, » as E! News reported. The Emmy Award nominee seemed to let all of the love get to his head, telling WMC Action News 5, « I’ve always been about supporting the people in this county. That’s what they’re here to do is support me. Support me, you support yourself. »
His statements became even more outlandish when he was asked how it felt to go from one side of the law to the other. « You might have asked [Nelson] Mandela, Martin Luther King, Reverend Lowery, Stokely Carmichael, you might ask those people that just got arrested in Ferguson what it’s all about, » he proclaimed. « Sometimes, you have to do what you have to do and stand up for justice. » Just a reminder: Mandela spent 27 years in prison, while Brown spent five days locked up.
Judge Joe Brown had some choice words about his jail time
The five-day sentence Judge Joe Brown served may have taken place in protective custody because of the TV star’s high profile, but that was enough for Brown to compare his experience to being locked up in a « slave warehouse. » Following his release from jail in early September 2015, Brown told Entertainment Tonight that « being inside a jail is like being in the slave warehouse. » He elaborated, saying, « The problem with being in a jail is not whether you have TV sets, radios or air conditioning — it’s the fact that you’re confined against your liberty. »
Turns out Brown was likely being melodramatic, as Sheriff’s spokesman Chip Washington painted a vastly different picture of the conditions Brown had endured behind bars. Speaking about the holding facility before Brown turned himself in, Washington revealed, « Joe Brown will be held at the CJC in protective custody segregated from the general population, » as reported by E! News.
He tried to monetize his incarceration
Brown maintains that his prison sentence was a farce and that there was no reason for him to be locked up. « This is the worst, most racist, discriminatory operation [the justice department] have ever investigated, » the disgraced judge told Entertainment Tonight. However, he credited his short stint in the slammer with inspiring him, saying the ordeal « did one thing » for him. « It firmed up in me, when all this stuff was going on, that I’ve got to come out of retirement and I’ve got to do a show again, » he explained.
According to ET, Brown penned a proposal for a show called True Verdict as soon as he got out. « [The Justice System is] no longer concerned so much with controlling crime as it is dealing with those people who are surplus labor, » he said. Brown continued, « This country hasn’t paid enough attention to making sure everybody has a job, » noting, « They get the first felony so you can’t vote anymore in life and you no longer can get a job, so there’s a lot of money to be made by locking people up. »
Brown added, « We aren’t doing anything about correcting this problem, and I think it’s time that we develop a national and local leadership that’s committed to doing something about it, which will be, amongst other things, one of the points and topics that will be looked at [on the new show]. » True Verdict would never see the light of day.
Judge Joe Brown slammed SZA and female empowerment
When singer SZA told British Vogue she believes that women « don’t need [men] to survive or be valid functioning members of society, » she likely never expected to hear from one Judge Joe Brown. But apparently her comments on female empowerment really rubbed him the wrong way. So much so that he actually took to Twitter to slam the « All the Stars » songstress. Brown went on the offensive, firing off, « This’s a selfish and foolish brat: while a few females like her aren’t able to cope with MEN, the human race, children and well adjusted REAL WOMEN do need MEN just like REAL MEN need WOMEN. »
He was met with both support and criticism, but defended his original comment when someone tried to point out that SZA « was talking about women being independent in a male dominated society that we live in that belittles women to a point where they (or someone else) thinks that they can’t do it because they’re a woman. » The person added, « She was empowering women. You took it out of context. »
Brown slammed back, « This is the context: as of 2011: Born out of Wedlock: 42% of Americans 35 & under; 80+% 20 & under. Male Situation: Only 28% of each years HS Grads; 32% of College Undergrads; 36% of Grad Students; 44% of workforce. That is the face of ‘the problem’ and it’s not healthy. »
He’s desperately trying to reinvent himself
Judge Joe Brown may be a thing of the past, but its star still holds the small screen close to his heart. Several years after his successful show was cancelled, Brown announced his return to television in 2019. But rather than focusing on courtroom drama, his series Hot Topics with Judge Joe would see the shady lawyer pushing his opinion on various trending hot topics on « a spicy new talk show. »
Speaking about his new gig, Brown boasted to Programming Insider, « This is an intriguing format for me because this time I get to talk with a qualified panel of other individuals about various topics, everything from breaking news to issues in pop culture, lifestyle, sex and health. » He added that « any and all issues will be debated, » before pointing out, « In today’s tumultuous political climate, I think the timing is just right. » Brown noted, « And we will feature a subjective group of panelists, each with their own opinions and viewpoints. »
The first episode of Hot Topics was set to debut on Feb. 9, 2019, but, instead, Pacific Lake Entertainment made a last-minute decision to move it to Sept. 28, 2019, « making the series available for Q2 ad budgets and allowing for a stronger promotional campaign leading up to the program’s new launch date. »
His divorce was reportedly a petty affair
In February 2017, Judge Joe Brown finalized his second divorce and split from his longtime spouse, Deborah Herron. The pair was apparently embroiled in a « long divorce battle, » according to TMZ, which obtained court documents from their settlement. What was the hold up? From the looks of it, the former couple came in with all guns blazing, seemingly nitpicking over every single item in their possession. Due to the alleged lack of a prenuptial agreement, the exes had to decide who would get what and it seems like things got seriously petty in court.
According to the final settlement, Brown was reportedly awarded a Tennessee home, four luxury cars (a Porsche 911, a Range Rover, a Land Rover, and a Jeep), as well as — get this — a leather reclining chair. Meanwhile, his ex-wife allegedly walked away with all of their exercise equipment (namely, a Lance Armstrong spin bike, a stair climber, and a Bowflex), as well as a sweet $2,219 each month in spousal support.
Judge Joe Brown was ’embarrassed’ by a gender-neutral Homecoming
White Station High School in Memphis, Tenn. made headlines in September 2019 by foregoing the traditional titles of Homecoming King and Queen. Instead, the school created a new, gender-neutral title — Homecoming Royalty.
Student Brandon Allen, who identifies as gay, was the lucky winner and walked up on stage to accept the prize wearing a gold sequin dress. The high school shared the exciting moment on Facebook and Twitter, exclaiming, « We crowned our 2019 Homecoming Royalty tonight. Congrats to senior Brandon Allen! » Fellow students sure seemed to appreciate the inclusive change. « It was such an incredible thing to witness, » junior Emmett Campbell, who identifies as transgender and happened to take the viral pic of Allen’s win, told NBC News. « It was a moment of acceptance and validation for the LGBT+ community from our entire school. »
Judge Joe Brown, however, did not share in that sentiment. So much so that he felt the need to voice his disapproval on Twitter. « I am embarrassed that I have spoken to assemblies there, » he declared. « I salve my conscience by remembering that few if any of the current students were there when I last spoke to them. » Brown’s comments were met with both support and criticism, with one person writing, « I’m certain they are now embarrassed that they had you speak to assemblies there. Shame on you for using your public forum to shame a teenager. » In response, Brown doubled down on his remarks.