I Was Almost on Judge Judy
Turning 30: A Literal Dumpster Fire
Well, it happened. As some of you may know, I turned thirty. What some of you may not know is that three days before I turned thirty, I did stand up at Acme Comedy Club.
Oh and I had a house fire.
Around 10:15 pm, I got a call from my roommate that there was a fire at our place. She had no details, no clue as to how bad it was, nothing. I ran out of Acme and sped the whole way home.
I was three blocks away when I saw all the flashing lights. There were at least 3 fire trucks and more police cars than I could count. My other roommate was with the fire chief, and they immediately started asking me questions, only one of which I vividly remember: “Is there anyone who would want to hurt you?” Being the person that I am my response was, “Not like THIS!”
I eventually interrupted their questions to tell them I needed to see it. “I don’t think you should,” they said. Obviously I ignored such ridiculous advice and ran into the house. It was pitch black, everything was covered in soot and there were firefighters everywhere. (*In any other circumstances, this could have been a dream come true but let’s not go down that rabbit hole right now.)
ANYWAY. I got to my room, where 90 percent of the damage occurred, and I saw this:
You always think you’re prepared for the worst. Then the worst bites you in the ass and laughs at you for not seeing it coming.
Clothes, shoes, scarves, my BED, photos, things I’ve collected from trips I’ve taken over the years, you name it, it was gone. The journal I kept while I was in Ireland, the teddy bear I’d slept with my entire life, the American Girl Doll my grandparents gave me- she was archived by the way- you can’t even GET HER ANYMORE!
You can always buy new yoga pants, and new bed sheets, but there are some things you can never get back.
As time has gone on, however, I’ve found strength in the community I get to call home. My friends, family, people from all over have rallied in a way that has been both unbelievably generous and made me feel loved, supported, and capable. I’ve been lucky enough to get both monetary and emotional support from every human around me and it’s meant the world as I have attempted to, quite literally, pick up the pieces and move on.
It’s a strange feeling to have life slap you in the face in such a strange way. We’re connected to our belongings, they carry our stories and our memories, good and bad. When something like this happens, you’re forced to grieve in a way that has never been discussed in a Ted Talk. You tell yourself every day that they were just things, things can be replaced. You’re alive, you’re here, you’re okay, and as my Grandma Merce so eloquently put it in her anything-but-empathetic voicemail to me, life goes on.
But that doesn’t always stop the pain. The anger. The tears. The feeling of “why me?” that erupts from time to time and makes you feel selfish, ungrateful, and whiny. But part of grief, part of letting go, part of growing from tragedy is not disregarding those feelings- it’s acknowledging them. Because in all honesty, losing all your shit in a house fire sucks.
However, I am lucky. I am grateful for the people in my life, for the love I have received, for the fact that I have resources and privileges that allow me to keep going.
My only grievance is that I didn’t have three baby dragons to raise once the damn fire was put out.
So, Why the Fuck Didn’t I Go On Judge Judy?
Now let’s get to the MEAT of what this post is realllllly about.
Right after the fire, my idiot landlord was under the impression I could stay in the spare bedroom. First- the fire inspector told everyone in that building to leave because of smoke and chemical damage, so it wasn’t even SAFE to stay in. The place was quite literally singed to oblivion. Second- my landlord is the biggest piece of trash I’ve met in a long time, and here’s one of the many reasons why.
He’s trying to blame me for the fire.
After I moved in with my mom and stepdad while I looked for a new place, they reached out to him on my behalf (so I wouldn’t have to deal with him) to tell him where I was staying so he knew where to send our security deposit and pro-rated rent for May. According to Minnesota law, “If a tenant has to leave because the building is condemned, the landlord must return the deposit within five days after the tenant leaves, and after receipt of the tenant’s new address or delivery instructions (unless the condemnation was due to the tenant’s willful, malicious, or irresponsible conduct.)”
He didn’t respond, so they reached out again. He responded by saying they had yet to determine the cause of the fire- and he was waiting to hear back. That was the first lie- the fire and police report were both filed within 36 hours of the fire, and both indicated that it was “undetermined, but possibly electrical.” My stepdad responded by saying that if he does not return the deposit and rent by a certain date, we would file with conciliation court. He finally emailed ME and my roommates, not including my mom or stepdad, with this LOOOONGGGGGG novel about how he refused to be “pushed around and intimidated,” and was refusing to return our rent and deposit because “there was strong evidence to indicate that the cause was a candle.”
So that’s the second lie. I have the fire report and the police report bro, and I also don’t keep lit candles under my bed. I have my séances at the graveyard like a normal person.
My mom (who’s an attorney- I failed to mention that) and myself immediately began gathering materials and preparing to file in small claims court to sue him. Then, one day, as a JOKE, my mom emailed me the link to apply for Judge Judy. So, I did cuz…why not?
Three days later a producer called me. I gave her the details of the case, and as long as my landlord agreed, they wanted to put it on the show.
My mom and I were STOKED! Mainly because we both were under the impression that participants get a huge appearance fee just for BEING on the show and the show also takes care of your settlement if you lose. So even though my landlord wouldn’t have to pay out of pocket, I could still walk away with a ton more money and be able to buy, like, FURNITURE.
After a few days, he finally agreed. Again, we were stoked!
But that’s when things got weird.
I hopped on a conference call with a few producers who wanted to know the all the details of the story and how much I was suing him for so they could get my case approved for the show. I told them we were suing for our deposit, rent and punitive damages, and they quickly tried to convince me to sue for my personal belongings. Now having a mother for an attorney, I was well aware that no court anywhere was likely to say that your landlord was responsible for the cost of your personal property unless they set your shit on fire themselves. But they were ADAMANT that I should do it, and kept finding other things that they wanted to add to my claim so that the amount I was suing for kept getting higher and higher- all the while I knew that there’s no way that woman would ever give me this much. That was the first indication that something was off.
Another thing that was odd was that they wanted to tape the show in less than a week. We still have to file the complaint, and you need a case number to prove that it was filed in small claims court- and there’s no way we could get a case number in time. But this producer was trying to sell me on the fact that having the case number doesn’t really matter, which it very much does.
Finally, I asked about compensation. The appearance fee- which is the amount you get for just being on the show- was SIGNIFICANTLY lower than what I was originally told. Which changed both mine and my mother’s tune very fast.
How Judge Judy works is that she’s not technically acting as a judge in your case. Although she is a judge, since the show tapes in California your case switches from litigation to arbitration, which means that she’s essentially a mediator who determines the outcome of your case and that outcome is final. After doing the show you can never appeal or reopen your case in another court for any reason. But since these are the terms, there are certain things she never awards a plaintiff- one of them being punitive damages.
I received a contract that I was told to sign right away. Again, we still didn’t even have a case number, we didn’t have travel details, and we still didn’t even fully know what my case was going to entail on the show.
Here’s the final clincher- since the appearance fee was so low, and the odds of me getting even close to everything I was asking for was even lower, I crunched the numbers again- this time with a few lawyer friends in addition to my mom. I would have only walked away with half of what I could get from an in-state judge- and that included the appearance fee.
So now, we’re also looking at the fact that if my landlord lost, the show would cover his settlement fees in ADDITION to paying him to be on the show. If he wins, he walks away with cash and I walk away with less than what he owed me in the first place.
I couldn’t live with that. Judge Judy has always supposedly been about holding people accountable. How is paying their settlement holding someone accountable?
So after all these weird details started coming out, I told the producer that I was no longer interested in doing the show, and thanked her for her time.
Suddenly a switch flipped in this person. I was getting bombarded with phone calls, text messages and emails from two different producers asking me why I didn’t want to do the show, telling me that it seems “obvious” that doing the show is the best solution, and that I’ll never get as much in a court here as I could on their show. I was told that I needed to “clear my head of the large settlement amount and look at the situation with fresh eyes, it’s messing with your perspective.” They told me the lawyers I had sought advice from on this matter were “overconfident.” Their tactics were condescending, borderline bullying and were trying to intimidate me. They were trying to convince me that not doing the show was the biggest mistake I could ever make.
All of a sudden the appearance fee numbers were getting higher. For whatever reason, these people REALLY wanted me on the show- which turned into one of the biggest reasons why I decided to turn it down. Why did they want me on the show so badly? To me, my case seems pretty clear cut and dry, my landlord is breaking the law. But these producers are working with him too, so what insane, fabricated story have they developed with him to ruin any possibility of me not only losing my case, but exploiting my story at the same time?
So I told her, several times, that I did not want to do the show anymore. My gut was telling me this was a bad idea. This followed up with several texts of “I don’t understand why…” (which means you’re just not listening), followed by a million more condescending and rude remarks about why I’m an idiot for not doing it.
Finally, I sent her a text outlining exactly why I didn’t want to do the show, followed by this:
Needless to say, I’m pretty sure I made the right decision.
This show has been on for 23 years. TWENTY THREE YEARS. Yet I’m being given the impression that replacing my case is going to be a huge issue. My landlord agreed because he knows he’s guilty and doesn’t want to pay out of his own pocket, and the producers want to create a television show that will get high ratings. In the end, I knew that my best interest was not to participate, and I was made out to be a villain.
I was pretty shocked at their tactics. If for no other reason, they were so unprofessional. This is supposed to be your job and the intense pressure they put on me was outrageous. In all fairness, I’m sure they deal with people who are easily manipulated by these forms of attempted intimidation and possibly have much more to lose. But, sorry henny, you can’t essentially call me stupid, try to intimidate and frighten me, and then ask me to be a part of a reality court television show that could result in me losing more than I bargained for.
While I am sad that my reality television show career came to a screeching halt, I think that just means I have to shoot higher. If court TV isn’t the answer- I think we all know what is.
Jersey Shore: Minnesota.
So, Minnetonka Shore?
P.S. We’re still gonna sue the SHIT out him.