“This is my courtroom, I can say what I want. When you become a judge, we will talk.” That’s a familiar remonstration from Her Honor, Judge Judy Sheindlen. She, of course, is television’s highest paid celebrity jurist, who reportedly grosses 184 percent more than the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. She also relies on a surprising legal authority to help bring order to her courtroom: Amy Freisleben, a 1984 Southwestern Law School graduate. Freislenben, at a recent campus appearance, said her rise to broadcasting’s top ranks, as Executive in Charge of Production on Judge Judy, happened by chance. “I was at the right place, at the right time,” she said when sharing her story and experiences with students.
When Freisleben graduated from Southwestern, she had never taken an Entertainment Law class, and, in her day, she recalled, the only such course offered was taught by the late pioneering educator and practitioner for whom the Donald E. Biederman Media and Law Institute is named. She said she never imagined a career in the entertainment industry, and, instead, was focused on litigation, especially after she interned at Sedgwick LLP, the international litigation and business law firm, originally founded in San Francisco and with offices in Downtown Los Angeles. With that internship successfully completed, she landed a job at Sedgwick as an associate in general business litigation. Freisleben, who has worked for other firms, heard about a job opening on Judge Judy from a colleague.
Fortune put Freisleben in the right spot in 1998 to be hired as Judge Judy’s production attorney and her work and accomplishments on the show — the highest ranked daytime TV program with the most successful syndication deal — won her a promotion. She soon was covering the live courtroom drama Judge Joe Brown. Freisleben also has served as Senior Vice President of Business and Legal Affairs for CBS Television Distribution. Her positions have required her to handle daily production issues that crop in running two live-court dramas, such as: reviewing promotional material for television and radio; website issues, including Facebook and complaints on Better Business Bureau; and “clearances, litigation, and the traditional legal work that comes with handling actual small claims cases on the show.” She said that one of the biggest challenges on the show “was training producers on how they could interact with litigants and continuously reminding them, they were not lawyers!”
After fifteen years of managing the shows, 2012 brought new career challenges when she was named Executive in Charge of Production for Judge Judy. Although she longer handles legal matters, Freisleben said she still employs her lawyering skills daily in managing the show’s budget, setting the production schedule, overseeing a production team of fifty, thirty-five crew members and managing post production matters such as creating a reel piece and selecting episodes for consideration at this year’s Emmy Award Show, as well as handling research and travel issues. Freisleben is excited, too, because the CBS network has approved a new courtroom reality show created by Sheindlin and set to premiere in September — Hot Bench, where actual cases are decided by a three-judge panel. And while the broadcast judicial empire for Judge Judy and Freisleben grows and flourishes, just a reminder that earlier this blog examined the disconnect between the reality TV shows and the reality in federal, state and local courts — see that post, ‘Oh, Really? 47 Million Ways TV Court Differs.’