Judge Judy, the show that has made its no-nonsense titular star one of the richest women in television, celebrates 20 years on air this week.

Over around 5500 episodes, 73-year-old Judge Judith Sheindlin has adjudicated a seemingly inexhaustible supply of real-life small claim disputes, ruling that those in the wrong must pay the other party anywhere up to US$5000 in damages.

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You might wonder - how, after 20 years on air, does Judge Judy still manage to get willing participants for the show? Why would anyone run the risk of international TV humiliation and a public dressing down when you could tend to the matter in the relative privacy of a small claims court?


Well, the answer is simple. In return for appearing on the show, the producers cover all costs in Judge Judy's rulings.

That's right: every single one of Judge Judy's rulings - that aggrieved party 'A' has to pay aggrieved party 'B' a sum of several hundred or thousand dollars to cover the costs of trashing their house / totalling their car / killing their budgie - said costs are covered by the show, from a fund reserved specifically for this purpose.

And not only will you not lose out financially by going on Judge Judy, you actually stand to make a little bit of money - even if she rules against you.

Both the plaintiff and the defendant receive an appearance fee for their time on the show. This appearance fee can vary from $100 to $500, depending on time spent filming.

In addition to this, all travel and accommodation costs are covered by the show: Judge Judy producers will fly you to Los Angeles, put you up in a hotel, and fly you home, regardless of whether you win or lose your case.

Think of it as an all-expenses-paid holiday, with your one obligation showing up for a televised 'court' appearance.

It doesn't take a genius to figure out that this is a pretty sweet deal, and at least one fake case has slipped through the cracks: a particularly weird 2010 case of alleged animal abuse was actually concocted by a group of friends who just wanted to score a free LA holiday. They certainly made for good TV:

Just remember, the next time you're cheering as Judge Judy dresses down some small-time crook or belligerent hick, demanding they pay up - they'll be doing nothing of the sort, and in fact going home on a free flight a few hundred dollars richer.