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‘Street Court’ is in session in Atlanta

Judge Mazz grills a defendant Leon Lott in Atlanta over $1,500 he owes his ex-fiance's sister

Judge Mazz grills a defendant Leon Lott in Atlanta over $1,500 he owes his ex-fiance's sister

In 1981, avuncular Judge Joseph Wapner hosted a little show called “People’s Court,” where Wapner dropped the gavel on people’s small claims cases. This was an early example of “reality TV” featuring everyday people with everyday problems.

The show became a huge hit, spawning an entire sub-genre of TV that has since taken time slots away from game shows, soaps and talk shows during the day. Today, there a dozen judge shows trolling the airwaves, from “Judge Judy” to “Judge Mathis.” They all hew to the original “People’s Court” formula: an austere wood-lined faux courtroom featuring a judge behind a desk wearing a black robe and a stern bailiff by his or her side.

This past fall, “Street Court” arrived to break down those walls. Brooklyn Italian Michael Mazzariello, who goes by Judge Mazz, dispenses with the robe and takes the show on the road, going to the scene of the crime when necessary. Heck, he has never even been a judge. But he has legal cred as an assistant district attorney and high-profile plaintiffs’ and criminal defense lawyer.

“It’s justice making housecalls,” Mazzariello said in an interview at Palas Jewelers in Buckhead. He and his crew were shooting a series of cases in Atlanta earlier this month. “I’m using an atmosphere where everyone is more relaxed. And we have the go-see moment. I was on a roof yesterday in 20-degree weather checking out damage. What better way for a litigant to show a judge what the issue is!”

Not all his competitiors take a bright view of his concept. “It discredits the genre,” Judge Greg Mathis told me in December. “There’s no reality to what they’re doing.”

“Street Court” has already been given a second season but it isn’t causing leader Judge Judy Sheindlin to lose any any sleep.

“It’s doing okay,” said TV industry analyst Bill Carroll of Katz Television Group in New York. “In most cases, it’s part of overall court blocks and in that sense, it’s doing as well as that middle range of court shows.”

Locally, the show airs on CW 69 at 1 p.m. and 1:30 p.m weekdays, where it typically gets just under a one rating, which means one percent of household televisions.

From an economics standpoint, Mazzariello said “Street Court” costs about the same to make as regular judge shows. Judge Judy can stay in one place and tape eight to 10 shows in a single day. “Street Court” has fewer fixed costs and a smaller crew, but producers can only tape two or three cases a day traveling around the country.

This is far more work for Mazzariello. Not that he’s complaining. “Street Court” is his baby. “I am reared to work,” he said. “This is my dream. I’m going for it.” And he takes his work seriously, even if he’s in someone’s home, staring at a fridge crawling with cockroaches. “This is real. These are real issues, real money,” he said. “This is not a joke.”

“Mazz,” 50, grew up in what he calls the “homicide capital of the world” in Brooklyn. He got his TV break thanks to Atlantan Nancy Grace, the growling host on HLN. In the late 1990s. he ran into her at a breakfast and she was charmed. He became a regular legal analyst on her show. A couple of years ago, she suggested he try TV on a full-time basis. He was skeptical..

“I have this big nose and Brooklyn accent,” he said.

But that made him distinctive. By the time “Street Court” was launched last fall, he covered 92 percent of the country, impressive for a novice show.

Ironic note: Grace herself is going to start her own court show next fall.

Another compelling reason for him to go on TV. He blamed Lipitor for messing up his memory. He could no longer do homicide cases effectively. Small claims stuff? He can handle that. “I almost lost my house,” he said, because of medical bills and his inability to work full time. (He’s now married with a six-year old child.)

The case I watched featured Atlanta’s Vicki Young, who had sued Leon Lott for $1,500 in local small claims court. “Street Court” called a few weeks ago and offered to take the case in arbitration. Bonus: the TV show pays the damages so neither side loses on that front.

Mazzariello didn’t cut Lott much of a break. “Look at me when I’m talking to you,” he’d say a couple of times. And he’d call Lott a “huckalero” (his signature insult) for not paying back the loan. “Pay your debts,” he told Lott. “Be accountable!”

Yet afterwards, Lott liked the TV judge. “He’s extremely fair,” said Lott, a 44-year-old security guard from College Park. “He’’s very charismatic. I used to live in Queens. I didn’t live too far from the Italians.”

Lott said he’d be able to pay back the loan if he could get back the engagement ring he gave to Young’s sister in 2006. (That’s why the setting was at a jewelry store.).

“Mazz” ended the case with this catchphrase: “That’s my ruling. That’s it!”

“I’m looking forward to seeing it on TV,” Lott said. The case is set to air January 28.

Judge Mazz checks out an engagement ring similar to that Lott wants back from his ex-fiance so he can pay off the debt. PHOTO CREDIT: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

Judge Mazz checks out an engagement ring similar to that Lott wants back from his ex-fiance so he can pay off the debt. PHOTO CREDIT: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

If you have never seen the show before, here’s a sample:

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10 comments Add your comment

phoenix falcon

January 22nd, 2010
11:51 am

man, i need to be a ” judge ” on tv, if he can do it, why can’t i?

TheStandard

January 22nd, 2010
12:04 pm

LOVE this show & guy! There’s a few well knowns here in Atlanta I’d like to drag onto TV for the world to see the deadbeats they are!!!

flaghip

January 22nd, 2010
12:38 pm

Why would Mathis make such a stupid comment. Seems like Street Court is more “real” than all the court shows. Judge Mazz is the MAN! Street Court was holding a trial on a roof and we got to see the poor workmanship right on the air. WOW! We have been watching this show since it started airing and love it. All our friends love it! Judge Mazz is the best looking Judge around. He really captivates us and you never know what’s he is going to do or say. Does anyone know if Mazz is married? What is a huckalero? We all use the word but don’t know what it means. Judge Mathis, you sound bitter and your show is stale. Judge Mazz rules! That’s my ruling and that’s it.

Cindy

January 22nd, 2010
12:51 pm

flaghip, you are right on the money. Mathis has no right to bad mouth this show because Street Court is better than his and is “real”. The only thing SC needs is PUBLICITY. We didn’t know it was on CW69 until we ran into the crew shooting a case here in ATL. Judge Mazz greeted us with respect and was funny. He is quite the imposing figure in real life. He can kill you with a quick look or stare. His show rocks and I think Mathis must me scared or nervous that Judge Mazz will become/is more popular than his. Judge Mathis is the Huckalero (I too don’t know what it means) Anyway Judge Mazz, keep kicking butt. We love you and your show here in Atl.

Lisa

January 22nd, 2010
1:09 pm

Judge Mazz is tooooooooooo handsome! Street Court is the best court show anywhere. We watch Judge Mazz everyday in the office and loveeeeeeeeeeee the way he looks and acts. It is a pleasure to watch a real court show on location. A note to Judge Mazz: If you are not spoken for, I would marry you in a NYC minute. Mathis isn’t worried about anything except himself and his totally boring show. Street Court Rocksssssssssssssssss.

Dominick C. Magistro

January 22nd, 2010
1:15 pm

There is a lot more to Michael Mazzariello that the world needs to know about. In 2006 Judge Mazz heard about our 501(c)(3) not for profit organization that instructs parents and children about Abduction Prevention, Internet Safety and Self Preservation. With the help of Judge Mazz we were able to bring our programs to over 40,000 children and 8,000 adults in the schools local to our home base. Judge Mazz is not only a board member and our legal counsel; he is a great advocate to our cause. Good luck on your new show Street Court. You are one of a kind Judge Mazz! The team at Carlie’s Crusade will never forget all that you have done to help us save the children. If any of the other TV judges want to step up and help us save the children PLEASE ….PLEASE …contact us. We need your help to save our children. Don’t just talk the talk…step up and walk the walk. I wonder if Judy, Karen, Mathis and more will help us like Judge Mazz has? Here is our contact information. WE NEED HELP TO SAVE THE CHILDREN!! Any of you willing to step up?

Http://www.carliescrusade.org
1-800-496-6720

bob

January 22nd, 2010
2:32 pm

judge judy is hot

TrafficHeadache

January 23rd, 2010
1:35 pm

There are so many court shows because people are sue crazy. And the shows are full of so many litigants–mainly defendants–who think they’re all that and a bag of chips and who justify their misdeeds. Judge Judy is the only judge worth watching because she’s not afraid to call interrupters to the carpet. Interrupting is rude, but it never appears to be rude to the person doing the interrupting.

baritone

February 22nd, 2010
1:47 pm

A huckalero is a wreckless and rash person. Basically a person who does stupid things without thinking of the consequences.

Trevor

March 4th, 2010
1:24 pm

I’ve seen the show a few times. Strangely I think “Judge” Mazz takes his “court” (includng those roach-infested courtrooms) more seriously than his be-robed colleagues.
I do like the huckalero line. When I first heard him say it I looked it up. I saw one where he had to go to this craigslist cam artist’s home. The guy stank and Mazz was not reticent about letting him know.

I predict this show will be a hit as more and more people get to know about it.