February 26, 2007

The Media Judge the Judge

Terms Seidlin and circus Seidlin and crying Seidling and emotional Seidlin and tennis Seidlin and Judge Judy
282 263 125 90 48

There were many colorful characters on display during last week’s Anna Nicole Smith courtroom drama, including her mother and several men claiming to be the father of her baby daughter.

But when the dust had settled, the crying was done, and the media circus had moved on, the man who probably made the most lasting impression was Broward County Circuit Judge Larry Seidlin.

Seidlin’s tear-soaked February 22 ruling that custody of Smith’s body belonged to her daughter’s guardian came after what was expected to be to a two-hour hearing had morphed into a four-day TV saga. Much of the coverage and commentary centered on Seidlin himself, an emotional jurist with an eclectic past.

For instance, why did the judge feel the need to tell everyone in the courtroom and watching at home that he grew up in the Bronx, or that he drove a cab, or that he liked to wear white – shirt and shorts – when he played tennis? Suspicions about his behavior were heightened after speculation surfaced that he was trying to get a television gig as the new, male Judge Judy.

What lasting impression did the judge leave after his 15 minutes of fame were up? According to a February 19-23 Google News search of stories including his name matched with 15 different terms, it wasn’t very flattering.

The word most closely associated with Seidlin was “circus,” which showed up in 283 stories and was used by many to describe the courtroom atmosphere. Meanwhile, 263 stories included the words Larry Seidlin and “crying” and 125 pieces combined the judge’s name with the adjective “emotional.”

A few other of the judge’s odd moments and alleged aspirations were also a regular part of the coverage. “Tennis” turned up in 90 stories about him. And his name also appeared in stories with the words “Judge Judy” 48 times.

Perhaps more ominously, there were 32 stories that featured both his name and the word “qualified.” That became an issue when the Miami Herald reported on a 2004 poll in which about 20% of the bar association in the county believed that was something he was not.