Back in 2010, there was an amazing Judge Judy segment that featured four people in a dispute over some smashed TVs and a dead cat. You may have seen a clip of it called "Best Judge Judy ending EVER!!!!!" (It's embedded above.)The story was completely made up—invented by four roommates in order to get a free trip to LA and some cash out of the Judge Judy producers. The story they invented was, basically, that a guy called Jonathan had gotten wasted at the house of a girl named Kate and smashed two TVs that she owned. One of the TVs, she said, landed on her pet cat, Trips, killing it. You can see the full segment here. I spoke to Jonathan, the defendant in the case, to hear his side of what happened:
VICE: What gave you guys the idea to contact the show?
Jonathan Coward: Well, my friend Kate, who was the plaintiff, had just moved up to New York from Baltimore, and she asked me what a quick way to make money was. I had some friends who went on Judge Joe Brown back in the late 90s. They were on there for some sort of roommate dispute. And they told me that the show pays the settlement. Was that a genuine case?
Yeah. So I told her we could come up with some story for Judge Judy, and we would probably get the settlement and a free trip to LA, because we knew that's where they shot. So we tried to think of a story that was absurd, something that would be good television. So I just threw out the idea of the cat thing, just off the top of my head. The whole point was that we need to have a story that's entertaining, but also involves damaged property. I was aware that the cap for small claims was around four grand. Kate got real excited about it and emailed the show straight away. And they got back to her and were interested in doing it. How did they reach out to you?
They just called. I allowed Kate to give them my number. I was really dodgy and cagey about answering the phone, and I would, like, talk to them for a second and hang up, and I told them I'd do it if they gave me an appearance fee and flew my friend Brian out for a character witness. I guess I was more concerned about making this more of a party for ourselves than anything else. How much of the story that you guys told is true?
Absolutely none of it. Once they agreed to put us on the show, we realized that we needed to take roles and not have this be something that was completely see-through. There were tensions at our house, so a slight amount of it was real. So you guys actually lived together?
Yeah. Did the cat actually exist?
The cat existed, yeah. His name was Trips, and to my knowledge he's still alive. He did end up running away, like, pretty soon after the show, though. Is Brian, your character witness, actually your ex-boyfriend?
No, he's not. That was another funny thing about it—in some sort of confusing, childish way that I can't really understand, Kate decided to write in that I was gay. Like she thought that was going to bother me, but I had no problem with that. So they flew you guys out to LA? Did they put you up in a hotel and stuff? How much money do you think they spent on sending you guys out there?
I would guess around nine grand. It was a decent hotel. Were you in the same hotel as Kate?
No, they had us in separate hotels. The thing that was really funny about it was that, in some way, I think the producer knew that it was bullshit. Because the night before we were leaving, she called me and was like, "You know, you guys can comp your meals from when you get in, just save your receipts. But if you guys have receipts for the same restaurant, the whole thing is off." In this sort of wink-nudge way. Because, like, if you're to believe this story and there's animosity between us, then why would we be having dinner together? Other than that, was there any indication that they thought you were lying? Do you think they would've cared that you were lying?
No, I think the producer liked the story so much that she wanted to, like, let it happen, but was letting us know that if it was fake—and I think she did believe it to be—that we needed to keep up the front the whole time we were there. Did you guys have to go through any kind of screening process?
Not a lot. They just asked what exactly happened, what times, and blah, blah, blah. Just logistical things, not really anything about who we were as people. To what extent are they your actual personalities on the show?
I can't speak for everyone else, but I knew that I had to lose to win. So in order to do that I had to be pretty despicable. Do you mind that people probably think you killed a cat?