Hot Bench has changed things up a bit for Season 9, with two new faces next to the show’s veteran judge.
Joining Michael Corriero on the #1 original daytime court show are criminal defense attorney Yodit Tewolde and experienced litigator Rachel Juarez to take on cases from various courtroom cases around the country in the popular three-judge format. The series, created by Judge Judy Sheindlin, also offers viewers a look at how the court functions as they watch the judges hash out the facts and law during deliberations. Majority rules.
Here, the judges share their experiences on the show and the craziest case they’ve seen.
Michael, what is it about the show that makes you keep coming back, especially for the ninth season?
Michael Corriero: I think what is so exciting for me about Hot Bench is the opportunity that we get to resolve cases in a way that we think does justice for often probably the people who are in disadvantaged situations. If we can continue, and we will continue, to find the right answers to their disputes, people will be breaking down our doors to be on Hot Bench. We not only try to do our best to share advice for everyone, but I hope that we’ll come to court and we do it in a very professional, entertaining, and educational way. I can only tell you that this season with my esteemed colleagues really affirms that professionalism that I think is so important.
What are the pros and cons of having your daily job be televised?
Yodit Tewolde: There are so many pros to what we do on a day-to-day and it being televised because we’re not only resolving issues for people inside our courtroom but we could possibly be helping the millions of viewers who are watching with similar issues. We’re adding that entertainment and educational factor, so I really can’t think of any cons.
Rachel Juarez: And hopefully we provide an avenue through the sort of educational aspect for other people to avoid finding themselves in court. If they can walk away from watching one of our episodes with a sort of snippet for a lesson: if you have a contract put it in writing, if you make a loan get a documentation of it. We can hopefully help people avoid court because at the end of the day, court is usually a last resort.
Corriero: I think that Hot Bench offers an exceptional opportunity for progressive judging, when not only can we get the case right, but somehow, we can reconcile the parties to each other. To me that aspect, the “peacemaking” if you will, is really something that I think we all enjoy seeing happen.
Yodit and Rachel, since it’s your first season on the show, would you say those are some of the reasons that made it appealing to join the show? Or was there anything else that made you want to take the leap?
Juarez: Absolutely, I think those are some of the main things that attracted me to doing the show, but also when I had an opportunity to meet the team here and the folks that are working around the clock to bring these cases to us, it was an easy yes. We have a fabulous production and support team here that are a pleasure to work with. Having a family workplace where you really love the people you’re working with was another thing that made it an easy yes.
Tewolde: I have to agree with Rachel, because I have been on the record twice saying I’d never do a judge show. [Laughs] Several people have come to me saying “remember that time I asked you about…” When our executive producer called me and asked me to do a chemistry test, it was very clear in the end that that chemistry was required for the show to be a success or continued success. And then meeting the team behind the show makes a huge difference in the way the show is produced.
Michael, have you noticed any big changes since bringing on Rachel and Yodit?
Corriero: I always jokingly say that the first thing they changed is that they’re much younger than I am. [Laughs] But beyond that, they are two excellent lawyers, and whenever you change up a team, there’s a different chemistry and different perspective and with both of them, I feel very comfortable, we seem to get along. I think we have the kind of chemistry that the audience can see a team that’s very interested in justice and giving everybody a fair chance.
Rachel and Yodit, what would you say you bring to the show that hasn’t been done before?
Tewolde: The two prior judges were phenomenal at making the show what it is. I think that I bring that sort of “no nonsense” [attitude] and experience of being a prosecutor and a defense attorney. Having dealt with doing media work and covering trials and being used to going up against Pro Se litigants is helpful.
Corriero: Just to add to that, not only is Yodit “no nonsense,” she has that calm that is so necessary to emphasize the gaps in certain cases and the truth of the situation. Not that it’s non-emotional, but it really points to how we make a decision. And [with] Rachel, for example, the other day, a litigant asked what I mean by “mitigate” and I went “uhh, Rachel!” [Laughs]
Juarez: I spent the last seven or so years of my career practicing family law where the things that you’re dealing with every day impact individuals lives in a very real way. In representing these clients, I really got to see how they take the words from the bench with them and what we say really impacts them and their daily lives. So I think that coming from that perspective as I’ve been on the bench, I really thought about how my clients would feel about the way we question them and the way that we deliver verdicts and the advice that is beyond a verdict, to be in a way that their experiences are positive.
Because this is a television courtroom show, would you say it’s been more of a challenge from what you would do before the show? What are some just crazy cases that have you feeling like “I have never seen anything like this before”?
Juarez: There is definitely some craziness. [Laughs] We’ve had all sorts of interesting stuff. One of the cases involves two individuals who began a romantic relationship that soured pretty quickly. One of them moved across the country after their very first date to live with the other one, and after some time, they ended up going on a cruise. Their allegations state that one of them was cheating the cruise ship casino and there are allegations that the other one made up events that took place in order to have their partner locked at the bottom of the cruise ship for the rest of the cruise, in order to be able to go out and enjoy the other gentlemen on the cruise.
Because your show is the number one courtroom show on TV, would you say that your lives have shifted, or have you been presented with new changes?
Corriero: Yesterday, I was driving in my car and next to me another car pulled up with four women and they rolled down their window and asked, “Are you a celebrity?” [Laughs] I think I am! My life has changed a lot.
Juarez: My answer is not yet, but it’s definitely been a change for what I do for a living and my day-to-day.
What do you think has viewers coming back season after season?
Corriero: The star of Hot Bench is the format, this idea that three seemingly intelligent, charming judges sit together and discuss a case. The audience would never see the inner workings of the court or the inner discussion a judge might have with his trusted advisors. This gives them an insight into how we think and the reflection of what I think is so important and something that we want to convey to society that we really are trying to do what is just and what is fair and sometimes that means we have to confront our own biases, how we were brought up, what we saw, and acknowledge them and overcome them so we can do what is right.
Hot Bench, Weekdays, check your local listings