Q & A with Joe Brown
Q: "How were you initially approached to do your own show?"
A: "I received a great deal of national press because of my unusual method of alternative sentencing, and because I was assigned to reopen the case involving the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I appeared on 'Street Stories with Ed Bradley' and that led to 'Nightline' and other national press. When Larry Lyttle, president of Big Ticket Television, saw the 'Nightline' profile, he thought that television might serve as a perfect forum to express my ideas because of my background and courtroom style. When he flew to Memphis with Executive Producer Peter Brennan to propose a show, I never dreamed I'd be on television, but then again, as a young lawyer, I never set out initially to be a judge either!"
Q: "What attracted you to do a courtroom television show?"
A: "One thing that interested me was that I look at what goes on out there in the courts. I believe there are changes that can be made. As a criminal court judge in Shelby County in Memphis, I had the power to help people and could do some social engineering. On JUDGE JOE BROWN, I can get the truth out to more people and hopefully make a difference in people's lives. "It's also a good way to get a message out to the American people that we must all work together with our system -- this will be an opportunity for them to get a window into their courts and witness justice first hand."
Q: "What are your thoughts about JUDGE JOE BROWN after two highly successful years on television?"
A: "It's fun! We entertain and enlighten, and the enlightenment equals the entertainment."
Q: "What experiences in your life have prepared you to do this so successfully on television?"
A: "I was educated in the L.A. public school system. I earned a political science degree and later a law degree from UCLA. I've been a schoolteacher, scouts master, Cub Scout master. I've been a volunteer, I've dealt with children, I counsel children, I've been out on the streets. I've always been focused on making a difference in society. Television allows me to get this message out, to show people that if they work hard, they can achieve anything they want."
Q: "What makes your show different than the other court shows?"
A: "I come from a tough inner-city. I bring a different kind of empathy to the court room genre, and that's what I'm bringing to the people. I understand how tough life can be, and I can relate to people's everyday problems. As a sitting judge in the criminal courts, I handled cases everyday from grade school level situations all the way to first degree murder matters and capital cases. Those real-life courtroom experiences come through on the screen when audiences watch JUDGE JOE BROWN."
Q: "The courtroom show genre has exploded in popularity -- and ratings -- in recent years. Why do you think viewers are so fascinated by courtroom shows?"
A: "Historically, the courts have provided a large part of America's entertainment. It's real life, and viewers can relate to that element."
Q: "How have you broken the minority barriers in the legal field, and how does that translate to television?"
A: "When I first went to Memphis fresh out of UCLA law school, I was just ahead of the integration of the courts. Just before that, black lawyers were treated with caution, and few as they were, they had to sit behind the courtroom rail. Later, I broke the minority barrier by becoming the first African-American prosecutor for the City of Memphis. "On television, I get to do what I wish I could do with some of the folks that have come in front of me during my tenure as a criminal court judge in Memphis. I can get past some of the bureaucratic technicalities to get right to the situation at hand. And everyone gets a fair shake in my courtroom."
Q: "How do you feel about cameras in the courtroom in general?"
A: "Cameras can serve as an effective watchdog for potential corruption and dishonesty in the judicial system. I also think it's important that people have an opportunity to witness the judicial system with all it's glory -- and its flaws -- so that they have a better understanding of how things work."
Q: "Do the cameras distract you or change the way you judge a case?"
A: "Whether I'm judging a civil case on the show or judging a criminal case in the Memphis courtroom when I was on the bench there, all I focus on is the case at hand. These are real people with real problems who deserve my undivided attention, and that's what they get."
Q: "Since retiring from the Shelby County Criminal Courts in Memphis, Tennessee in April 2000, how will you spend your new-found time? Will more of your time be devoted to the show?"
A: "Much of my free time will be spent traveling on a speaking circuit, as well as writing. And yes, I will devote much more of my time to the show!"
Q: "What was your rationale to decide to retire from the bench? Will you miss serving as an active criminal court judge? Will not serving as an active criminal court judge affect your image as an authority figure in any way?"
A: "I will miss serving as an active criminal court judge, but I decided to retire because I felt that I had too many 'irons in the fire.' However, my authority stems from my personal presence, regardless of whether I'm an active criminal court judge."
Q: "What is your philosophy on offering second chances to offenders?"
A: "It depends on the offense. Some people do things so horrible and atrocious that they don't deserve a second chance. But there are a lot of people out there who need guidance and the chance to change their way of life. Eventually, you have to take the opportunity to change those folks because if you don't, they'll be back out, dealing with us again and again."
Q: "Why use creative sentencing instead of incarceration?"
A: "I've found that although making an impact on the wallet is one way to make people 'pay' for their actions, creative alternative sentencing can be a more effective way to really get an offender's attention. For example, I had a case in Memphis involving a burglar whose past offenses warranted more than just jail time. I let his victim go by his house and take some of the burglar's most prized possessions. It made the victim feel better, it made the perpetrator suffer and it reinforces the age-old adage that crime simply does not pay."
Q: "What are your current thoughts on the James Earl Ray case?"
A: "I get asked about this all the time. I was the judge that presided over the last round of matters pertaining to the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the late James Earl Ray. Let me just say this -- the James Earl Ray case is a matter that shouldn't end just because Mr. Ray is now deceased. There is more that the people need to know about what happened to Dr. King, and that needs to continue."
Q: "Do you spend personal time following up on your Memphis Court criminal cases?"
A: "You bet I do -- especially with cases involving kids and families. I check on my probation cases, and I talk to the kids. I believe a source of prevention being 10 times the cure. I work with the young folks. I work with everybody. You can see me anywhere and everywhere at anytime."
Q: "You've mentioned the possibility of running for mayor in Memphis sometime in the future. How will hosting JUDGE JOE BROWN affect your potential mayoral run? In what ways?"
A: "The public relations and publicity certainly won't hurt a potential mayoral run, and the message I get out on the show is beneficial for any campaign."
Q: "Do you think all that personal investment makes you a better role model for kids and your community?"
A: "I hope so. I fought my way out of the inner city with my words and not my fists. As a successful African-American, I try to be an inspiration to kids, to let them know that they can make something of themselves if they really want to. That's why I do it. "I've been approached a lot by teen-aged former litigants, and they tell me, 'Judge, you just got done locking me up for the fourth or fifth time, but Judge, I needed it. I'd like to thank you for doing it. I wasn't doing right and you straightened me out.' They see me as an authority figure they can look up to -- one they've never had. As a role model, my goal is to encourage kids to become productive members of society by getting an education, working hard and living a good, clean life."
Q: "Your show tapes here in Los Angeles. As a native of the city, is there extra motivation to reach out to the community here?"
A: "Yes, there is. Los Angeles motivated me to be what I am today, and it taught me how to be what I am, as well."