Interview with Judge David Young

Judge David Young doesn't mind being known as “the gay judge”, but he really is much more than that. He hopes his new court room show will allow him to showcase the same humanity in daytime television that he brought to his criminal courtroom in Florida. He's intensely proud of the work he did as part of Miami 's pilot program Judicial Probation Monitoring, which worked to get drug addicts clean and productive rather than simply locking them up.

He believes his courtroom show will be different because he's going to run it with heart, humor and the occasional show tune, if that's what it takes to get his point across. The honorable Judge Young recently took the time to chat with us. Are you sick to death of being referred to as the "gay" judge?
David Young:
Oh, not at all. I'd rather be called the Brad Pitt judge, but if I can't have that, the gay judge is fine. I'm gay and I'm a judge and I understand that I'm the first one, and breaking new ground and that's an incredible challenge and an incredible opportunity that I'm just relishing, to be quite honest with you.

AE: There are already quite a few judge shows out there. Why another one?
Probably because they wanted something different. The court genre is very popular and it's popular because people, although they love conflict, they want to see resolution. And at the end of this show, you know where the judge stands and what makes mine different than the other judge shows is there's going to be a message attached to it. I'm going to decide cases in a unique way that has never been before on national television.

AE: Unique how?
With humor, with compassion, and if a show tune comes into it, I may sing something. You just never know. But I'm going to be making a point and every show is going to have a point to it. I was always taught in school, learning is fun and if you make people enjoy it, they're going to get something out of it, whereas so many of the other shows, they're yelling and screaming and belittling and when people yell at you, you shut down

AE: On the show you occasionally talk about Scott, your partner, and "camp" it up a bit. Was that ever an issue for the producers or did they tell you to go for it?
[singing] I gotta be me! It's all part of it, it's all part of who I am and the producers knew it when we got into it and they've been incredibly supportive.

AE: As a judge, do you worry shows like this trivialize the law and the courtroom?
I'm going to answer that question in two ways. Number one: a lot of new judges who get on the bench try to emulate Judge Judy and that ilk. I served on the Judicial Qualifications Commission for the state of Florida and I can't tell you how many legitimate complaints we had from individuals complaining about a judge's temperament.

In that sense, we have to take it very seriously that we are judges, but on the other hand, I think we have to comport ourselves to be human beings at the same time and Judy's type of behavior is not acceptable in a real courtroom. But this is television. You can call people down, but my style is not to belittle, belittle, belittle. It's more therapeutic. I'm a firm believer in therapeutic jurisprudence. And if you could ease the tension, and you can demystify by breaking out into song, or talking as a human being to another human being, it's amazing what you can accomplish.

AE: I don't know if you've followed some of the debate in the blogosphere about the show, but the gay community seems somewhat divided over it. There are those who are bothered by what they see as stereotypes such as "Justice with a snap!" slogan and ads that tout the fact you sometimes burst into show tunes. For those folks, it seems like another portrayal of gay men as campy queens — a term you used once yourself. Others think it's just a great thing to see a judge who happens to be gay. What are your thoughts?
Have them watch the show. When they watch the show, they're not going to see a Jack McFarland. They're going to see someone with almost 15 years of experience, someone who knows the law, someone who's no nonsense, someone who's compassionate, someone who's thoughtful. And if something comes along and I can be a little campy to make a point, to get it through somebody's head, to make a difference in their lives, I'm gonna do it.

AE: Did any stations or markets decline the show because of the gay aspect?
I haven't heard of any. (Editor's note: The show is cleared in 91% of the country so far.)

AE: Were you out as a prosecutor or as a judge?
I was not out as a prosecutor. I was out as a judge after my first year. I was laying on the beach one day and I read a book and I said, you know, I don't want to be 70 years old and find love. That's just not acceptable. My whole life is escaping me and I said, okay, I'm going to be true to myself, and I came out and the world didn't come to an end.

AE: Did you ever have to rule against a gay person or couple because of biased laws that you had to follow?
No, never had that. I had a case where it was a gay-bashing incident outside of Twist, a gay bar in Miami. This was before we had hate-crimes legislation. The public defender, of all people, came up to me and said, “Judge, I gotta ask you a question. This occurred outside of Twist. Can you be fair?”

I said to him, “Greg, if I were an African-American and this was a crime involving an African-American, would you ask me that question? If I were a woman, and this were a rape case, would you ask me that question? And if this was a hate crime case dealing with anti-Semitism and my being Jewish, would you ask me that question? If the answer to all those questions is no, then you should not be asking that question, now should you? He apologized and went back into court.

AE: In what ways do you think the law most unfairly treats gay people?
There are two clear answers to that in Florida. One is adoption. What kills me is I could file papers for couples to adopt a child, but I'm not allowed to adopt one myself.

The other one is the marriage thing. You know, that's discriminatory, plain and simple. I said to another judge when we were talking about the issue, “Let me ask you a question. What difference would it make in your life if Scott and I got married? Would you not be able to go to the movies? Would you not be able to be a judge? Would your husband not be able to practice medicine? Would it affect the way or the time you spend with your grandchildren? How will it affect you personally?” And she said, “I've never thought about it in those terms.” I said, “Well, you should.”

If you want less government – less government. Government has no business telling people they can or cannot get married. That's a religious thing. Strictly religion, religiously based.

AE: Were there any memorable gay cases you dealt with?
I was a judge on South Beach and we had a lot of gay cases. Whenever I went to the gay Chamber of Commerce luncheons or dinners or parties, everyone always introduced themselves. And I said, well I'm Judge David Young and some of you know me here from corporate and that'll be our little secret. Because sometimes the boys were getting friendly in the park and getting arrested. Like the senator.

AE: Did you ever have a case with a gay teen and you had to try and reconcile them with the parents when you were a judge?
Yes I did. A couple, actually. I had them when I was in juvenile court. There was this young man who got arrested several times in Flamingo Park and they brought him to me and we had a long conversation.

I'm gay, I said, and look where I am. I'm a judge. I asked what are you going to do with your life? Are you going to keep hanging out in the park? Are you going to have unsafe sex? Are you going to get HIV? I said let me tell you what it's like to die from AIDS and HIV. My cousin died from HIV and AIDS and she was a 26-year old Jewish girl, from an upper-middle class family. It could happen to anyone. I said you've got to get yourself back into school and you've gotta do X, Y, and Z and you've gotta start, you know, being responsible.

And the mother was crying, but she said, “I love my child and I want to be there for my child.” So I got them into family counseling and I hope everything is fine with them. That's several years [ago].

AE: Did voters know you were gay when you ran for reelection?
Not an issue. As a matter of fact, when my partner Scott ran for election, he ran as an openly gay man, of course, and he was outed in the Herald. He was never in the closet to begin with, but the Herald ran a story on his sexual orientation with me in the story about a week before qualifying.

Some homophobic bigot almost ran against him, but it didn't happen. But Scott's fundraising doubled overnight because people were so outraged that the Herald would even mention Scott's orientation. In Florida, you're not allowed to mention race, gender or sexual orientation in any judicial campaign ads. If you do that, you can get thrown off the bench. In that vein, Florida is very progressive.

AE: Who is your favorite and least favorite current Supreme Court justice?
My favorite Supreme Court Justice? Can I put Sandra Day O'Connor in there?

AE: Sure.
Her. And the reason why is because I know her. I had lunch with about three months ago, and she was so charming – she was terrific. She asked about how Scott and I met. We had a frank conversation about some of the members of the Court, and about some of the rulings that the Court has made, some that she disagreed with. She was a true person, a regular person, so I think Justice O'Connor is wonderful.

And my least favorite would have to be Scalia because I think he has ethical lapses in judgment. I mean he sat on a case involving Dick Cheney right after he went hunting with Dick Cheney – talk about a conflict of interest. I disagree with him 180 degrees from his philosophy, but that's irrelevant. Because justices can have different philosophies, but when you breach that ethical bound, that ethical duty that judges owe, I'm sorry, but there's no forgiving on that.

AE: You've said before you always wanted to be an entertainer. What's next for you then? An action movie? Broadway musical?
Broadway, Broadway, I see it now! (singing) I would like to play Nathan Detroit in Guys and Dolls.

AE: That's your dream role?
Yes. That and Gypsy are my two favorite musicals.

Judge David Young premieres on September 10, 2007. Check your local listings for times and stations.