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Interview with Judge David Young

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Interview with Judge David Young
© Sony Pictures Television/Joe Fornabaio

Judge David Young may burst into spontaneous song on the bench, but he's no understudy in the courtroom. The former Miami-Dade County Circuit Court judge has always fantasized about being a performer—he just never imagined his dream would manifest in the courtroom. In 2007, he became the latest of an all-star cast of daytime judges with his show Judge David Young.

What gives Young stage appeal? He's compassionate. He's openly gay.

I took a tour of the Sony Pictures set where Judge Young tapes his show. After the proceedings, I took an aside with Judge Young to talk about being an openly gay judge on the bench (and national television), how he manages to separate his emotions from the law, and the secret to his 13-year relationship with partner, Judge Scott Bernstein.

Ramon: Is it difficult finding a common ground between the law and your feelings about the litigants?

Judge David Young: It is a struggle most judges go through every single day. Any judge that says that they don’t go through that is not being honest. Most people feel for individuals, but the law has got to reign supreme. That’s what we’re here for: to interpret the law.

You’re known for your compassion on the bench…

You get more bees with honey than you can with vinegar. You can rule against somebody, but do it in such a way that they know why you’re doing it.

Do litigants every really get the message behind your rulings or is it more about winning and losing?

I think it’s more about winning or losing, but when they think about it they say, “Yes, Judge Young was right.”

Someone has to win and someone has to lose. How do you deal with the burden of deciding on issues that are important to peoples' lives?

I try to make both sides feel like they’re being listened to and that I understand what they are going through. I have to make a decision based on what I’ve heard, what they said and what the law is. Not everyone is going to leave happy; but if everyone leaves saying they got a fair shot and due process, then I’ve done a good job. Granted, some people will hear, but not listen. So, of course there is a certain level of frustration.

You’re an openly gay judge on national television. What does that mean to you?

Having a voice and being a role model for GLBT youth and their parents is crucial. It’s the only way we’re going to demystify the stereotype that we’re all a bunch of leather queens or that we ride in gay pride floats wearing boas with our rear ends sticking out. Some of us do that and God bless them for doing it, but there are others of us who are lawyers and doctors and hold positions of power in all spheres of government and business.

I think it’s a wonderful opportunity if GLBT kids can watch me on a daily basis and say, “Hey I can do this. I will do this. Look at Judge David. His sexual orientation has never been an obstacle for him.”

We need role models. Anything is possible if you work hard for it. One’s sexual orientation should not be an impediment to success.

Your show has been criticized for promoting you as “the gay judge” and you’ve been criticized for singing and snapping your fingers on the bench. The implication is that you are perpetuating gay stereotypes on television. Do you have a message for your critics?

Watch the show. The critics I’ve heard from have never even seen the show. They’ve only seen the promos.

Has the judicial community ever been discriminated against you for being gay?

No, I got elected as an openly gay judge in the Florida judiciary running against an established candidate. The wife of one of my opponent’s supporters said to somebody, “Well, you know there is a secret about David Young. He’s homosexual.” My friend said, “Of course he’s gay. Everybody knows that. Who cares?”

When did you come out?

When I was 34. I knew I was gay, but I wasn’t ready to come out until then.

What was your turning point?

I read a book about a political activist who didn’t find love until he was in his 70s and I thought to myself, that’s not going to be me. Life is too short.

Any kids planned, accept for your dog Maggie?

No, unfortunately just Maggie. My partner Scott doesn’t want children, although I think he would look really hot in a maternity dress. We’ve been together for 13 years.

What’s your 13-year secret?

Two words: "Yes dear."

Have you always had dreams of being an entertainer?

It’s been one of my fantasies.

Did you ever think your fantasy would play out on a courtroom stage?

Never in a million years. This is a dream. [Judge Young bursts into song]

Check your local listing to see Judge David Young in action.

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