Who: The meanest grandmother you never had, Judith Sheindlin—or Judge Judy, as she's known to the world—has earned hundreds of millions of dollars dispensing fake courtroom advice on her syndicated TV show.

Backstory: Sheindlin spent more than a decade on the bench before she became known to the world as "Judge Judy." The daughter of a dentist, Sheindlin attended American University and earned a law degree at New York Law School (not to be confused with NYU Law), later signing on as a family court prosecutor. Her brassy persona soon attracted the attention of higher-ups, and in 1982 Ed Koch appointed her to the bench where she developed a reputation for her no-nonsense attitude and stinging courtroom one-liners. A 60 Minutes profile in the mid-1990s caught the attention of television execs, and she stepped down as a judge in 1996 to pursue a TV career.

Of note: Although she wasn't the first judge to go from a real courtroom to one constructed on a TV soundstage (that honor would go to Judge Joseph Wapner of People's Court fame), Sheindlin's shtick breathed new life into the format in the 1990s, and has since inspired a spate of knockoffs including Judge Joe Brown, Judge Mathis, and Judge Mills Lane. Now the highest-rated court show on television (her ratings occasionally even surpass Oprah when the two shows go head-to-head) and a massive monkeymaker for the former civil servant, Judge Judy will likely continue to upbraid and humiliate trashy plaintiffs and defendants for a long time to come.

By the numbers: Sheindlin says that before she made it to TV, she was planning to retire on a pension of around $40,000 a year. Her actual retirement is going to be a lot cushier. She currently makes $45 million a year from the show thanks to syndication fees.

In print: Judy published a dry recitation of her philosophy of jurisprudence, Don't Pee on My Leg and Tell Me It's Raining!, in 1997. Her subsequent legal treatises have included Beauty Fades, Dumb is Forever and Keep It Simple, Stupid.

Personal: Judy—whose outsized personality hardly matches her petite physique (she's 5'1")—has been married three times, including twice to Judge Jerry Sheindlin, the host of the People's Court from 1999 to 2001 and with whom she has five children. Sheindlin lives in a mansion in Greenwich ("it has more than ten bedrooms"), and owns several other properties in New York, California, and Florida. The Sheindlins spend weekends on their yacht, appropriately named "Her Honor." Interested sailors can book a cruise for $135,000 per week at Herhonor.net.

Vital Stats

Full Name: Judith Sheindlin
Date of Birth: 10/21/1942
Place of Birth: New York, NY
High School:
Undergrad: American University
Graduate: New York Law School
Residence(s): Connecticut (Greenwich); New York; Los Angeles; Naples, FL
Filed Under: Law

[Photo via Getty Images]