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Judge Joe Brown
Judge Joe Brown, the non-traditional presiding judge of the syndicated reality courtroom show JUDGE JOE BROWN, is committed to making a difference in people's lives -- and he does.

From 1990 until April 2000, Judge Brown served as a judge of the Shelby County Criminal Courts in Memphis, Tennessee. As a criminal court judge, Judge Brown introduced a new way of sentencing first time, non-violent offenders -- with riveting results.

"I tried not to sentence anyone in the conventional way if I could think of a better way to get their attention," says Brown. Judge Brown's unusual method of administering justice stemmed from his childhood. Born in Washington, D.C., he relocated to South Central Los Angeles as a young boy. The only child of hard-working teachers, Brown formed his tough-love philosophy early on.

"I grew up in one of the toughest neighborhoods in South Central Los Angeles," he says. "If you saw the movie, 'Boyz 'n the Hood,' that was the way I grew up. I watched my parents tough it out on a daily basis, and I saw that what really kept them going was making a difference to others," he states. "That's why today, 'making a difference to others' is everything I'm about."

People should be kind, caring and humane. When they are not, it's my job to try and turn them around.

While nearly everyone in his neighborhood fell victim to the harsh realities and circumstances of living in an inner city, Brown chose education instead. His family later moved to the Crenshaw area and he graduated from Dorsey High School at the top of his class, then majored in political science at UCLA where he paid for his tuition by loading trucks and digging ditches. He became intrigued by the possibility of a legal career after a friend recommended that he try out law school. It turned out to be a perfect fit -- he was a brilliant student and also earned his law degree from UCLA while working as a substitute teacher. Upon graduating, he moved to Tennessee in 1973 to take a position with Legal Services, and then with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (E.E.O.C.).

Judge Brown later became the first African-American prosecutor for the City of Memphis before moving to the City of Memphis Public Defender's Office as director. In 1978, he launched his own private practice but returned to public service in 1990, where the people recognized his sincerity, passion and justice -- and elected him Judge of Division 9 of the State Criminal Courts for Shelby County. Today he often spends his weekends in the toughest parts of Memphis following up on cases, helping kids and teens to stay out of trouble and steer clear of activities that could put them in jail -- or a coffin. "I listen to young people talk about what's happening in their world, and I tell them about how I survived South Central," Judge Brown says. "Because I overcame the street life and got a good education, they tend to listen to me more than most adults, and I think I give them hope. My goal is to encourage them to become productive members of society instead of potential inmates who waste their young lives away."

His alternative sentencing thrust Judge Brown into the national spotlight, and his recognition was further intensified after he was assigned to reopen the case of the late James Earl Ray, convicted assassin of the late Martin Luther King, Jr. It was his appearance on "Nightline" that caught the attention of Big Ticket Television President Larry Lyttle, who was impressed with Judge Brown's magnetic and dynamic personality. Lyttle and Peter Brennan, executive producer of "Judge Judy," traveled to Memphis to meet him, and quickly they realized that television was the perfect forum for Judge Brown to express his ideas because of his unique background, charisma and unusual courtroom style.

Currently living in Memphis where he actively participates in the upbringing of his two young sons, Judge Brown sees his work on television as the "best way possible" to spread the word and make a difference, just like his parents did while he was growing up. To commemorate his work with inner-city youth, Judge Brown was honored at the Kennedy Center with The Olender Foundation's Advocate for Justice Award. Last Spring, he was inducted as an honorary member into Phi Alpha Delta, the world's pre-eminent law fraternity, in recognition of his distinguished service as a jurist and community leader and his successful effort to demonstrate the law to millions of Americans via JUDGE JOE BROWN. "It's simple," he says. "People should be kind, caring and humane. When they are not, it's my job to try and turn them around."

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