There isn't much better in life than the daytime courtroom drama, so when Hair Balls had the opportunity to sit in the audience for a taping of the Judge Alex show, we jumped. To our disappointment, however, Judge Alex does not hold court in an actual court room, but in the Fox studios on the Southwest Freeway.
First, this is how it works, according to several people from the set: the people are real and so are their stories, but, amazingly, it's not a real court of law. We were at the afternoon session and saw three "cases" and none were from Houston or Texas. Fox pays for travel and gives the plaintiffs and defendants a $250 stipend. When Judge Alex awards money in his ruling, Fox pays that, too.
Audience members get $25 for a half day, $50 for the full day (about ten hours). The audience was a mix of 20- and 60-year-old women and maybe six men. Producers sat the younger people in the front rows, but the older people seemed to enjoy the cases more and a young woman actually fell asleep.
Most of the younger audience members we talked with were students or unemployed, and almost everyone had been there the entire day and taped shows before Thursday. Some of them used to sit in the audience for Cristina's Court, which also filmed in Houston but was canceled in February.
Each case follows the same format: the plaintiff busts into the courtroom, then the defendant, then Judge Alex. The judge coaxes out some back story, which really has no bearing on the case, then he listens to arguments from each party, makes them look like asses, gives a ruling and slams the gavel.
We don't know when the episodes from Thursday's taping will appear, and we don't want to play spoiler, but here's a brief description of what we saw:
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the mission of the Houston Press. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Houston’s stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
-- The owner of an orange, 1979 big body Cadillac sued Cadillac Todd, the owner of the Shade Tree Mechanic Shop, a business he ran out of his driveway. Apparently, Cadillac Todd had pulled the engine, sent the engine to another shop but did nothing else, and the Caddy was eventually towed to the impound. Easily the most entertaining case, involving corn holes and powder heads.
-- A man sued his sister for $3,700 she borrowed to pay for her 23-year-old son's funeral. Sincerely depressing, because it just happened to be the son's birthday, and this one was all about dysfunctional families. The woman had found her son dead in his bed, after he overdosed on liquid methadone and Xanax. The brother called another sister as a character witness, and, shockingly, she was the sister that allegedly gave the man the drugs that killed him. Judge Alex almost kicked the mother out of the court room three times.
-- A father sued his 32-year-old daughter for getting evicted from her apartment. He had co-signed for the place and took care of the balance but his daughter hadn't repaid him. Judge Alex established that the father hadn't been there for his daughter when she was growing up, but he told the woman that she was an adult who needed to be responsible. At the start of the case, the woman wouldn't give Judge Alex the answer he wanted, and he snapped, "I feel like I'm looking at a deer in the headlights." The judge asked a producer to take the woman backstage and ask her if she had "changed her position." She came back and gave the right answer.
Overall, we think Judge Alex is a smart and witty judge who rules with a firm yet compassionate hand.