Judge Faith Jenkins is a lethal combination of beauty and brains. The 2001 Miss America first runner-up, became the second African-American to win Miss Louisiana, before ranking #1 in her class at Southern University law school. In this exclusive interview, we learn how Judge Faith went from being a Wall Street attorney to hosting her own syndicated daytime TV show; and no, this is not “Legally Blonde”.
You were Miss Louisiana and 1st Runner Up for Miss America; how did those experiences prepare you for your career in law?
I was exposed to a lot, and had a lot more responsibility than your average 24 year old. I was representing the state of Louisiana and travelling the country for an entire year, basically as a public speaker. I was the second African-American woman to win the title of Miss Louisiana; the first woman won it 16 years prior. It was a really big deal to me, and I took a lot of pride in representing (Louisiana) and going into schools to share my story with kids.
Because of my time in the public eye, I had no problem going into court and picking a jury, and then speaking in front of those jurors and arguing my cases. Public speaking was not a problem for me at all. It helped with my trials, and I think it also helped with the corporate law firm because, I was so used to being around different types of people. I could spend a morning at a juvenile detention facility, and in the evening I could have dinner with a governor or mayor. All of this helped me with my TV show, Judge Faith, because people come from different walks (of life) and I know how to relate to them. So, experiencing Miss Louisiana and Miss USA definitely helped my entire career.
What’s cool is that you encountered so many different types of people early in life; something most people from the inner city aren’t able to experience.
That is true! I didn’t know any lawyers when I was a little girl, nor when I first decided to pursue a career in law. If you knew me growing up, and someone told you that I would go on to do the things that I have done, you probably would have laughed because it just didn’t seem possible for me. That’s why I tell young people, “When you believe in yourself, you give others the courage to believe in themselves.”
It was not my goal to have my own TV show and no longer be practicing law. But, in 2013 I was covering the George Zimmerman trial for networks like MSNBC, CNN, and FOX. It was important for me to be covering that case in particular because, I wanted to offer a different perspective than some of the colleagues that I had on television. It was after that, that I was contacted about doing the Judge Faith Jenkins show. I had never thought about hosting a court show. I had practiced (law) for over 10 years in New York, and I think it goes to show that no matter where you are in your career, if you focus and work hard, and you are good at what you do, then doors are going to open for you.
“Never allow someone else’s opinion to be your reality.” – Judge Faith Jenkins
Being visible and having the experience definitely led to you getting this opportunity to host your own show. What do you think about being a TV judge?
It is the best job I have ever had! You never know what you’re going to get when you walk out there. These cases are real and they are not actors. Most of these people have never been on TV, or in court before. We are so entertained! We do have cases where it takes a serious tone and I’ve gotten emotional because, I’m the type of person that if I see someone else crying or hurting, I will tear up too.
However, the most fascinating thing to me is when I have cases where people come in and sue for something that was illegal in the first place. (laughs) I had this guy who was suing another guy for $5,000. He was buying iPhones from this other guy, but the phones were worth $20,000. So, I turned to the guy who was selling the iPhones and asked where did he get them, and how is he selling $20,000 worth of iPhones for only $5,000? He finally revealed that the iPhones were “hot-ish.” So, I turned to the other guy and said, “so, you’re suing because you didn’t get all of the stolen iPhones that he promised you?” (laughs)
It’s just funny how people come in with cases like this, and think they are in the right. These are filed cases in small claims courts around the country.
Even Yung Joc can’t control his feelings for #JudgeFaith in her courtroom. She sets him straight. Episode Date: Monday, September 26, 2016.
What has been your most memorable case so far?
There are a few that stand out for me, like the iPhone case. There is one from Spokane, Washington where a club promoter was being sued by a club patron. The patron entered a lingerie contest at the club and was told that the winner would get $1,000. She won the contest and only got $250, so she sued the promoter for the rest of the money. This promoter called himself the “P. Diddy of Spokane,” and he came in with this outrageous personality, but he wasn’t ready for her surprise witness. The surprise witness was this guy who called himself “Demon Assassin”, and he’s the one who helped this promoter come up with the contest. I asked him how he got his name and he said, “I’ve been to prison and I used to be on drugs, but I don’t do that anymore because I’ve assassinated all of my demons.”
Wow! What can we expect to see this season?
This is by far the best season because of the cases. I always tell people that court TV has changed because of the way people prove their cases now. We have Kool Moe D on the show, and he is an expert witness. We have several cases with young, up and coming music artists; many of them based out of Atlanta. Kool Moe D gives great advice and tells them that they have to read their music contracts before they sign them. If you sign a bad contract and the terms are not good for you, it’s not my job to right the wrong. I’m going to enforce the contract that you signed. If that means you lose money, I bet the next time you will read the contract more carefully and understand what you’re getting into.
We also have a case where a father is suing his daughter for $3000, which was the money he gave her to put towards her wedding. She called off the wedding and her father decides he wants his money back. As you can imagine, fireworks were going off in that case.
Going back to what I was saying earlier about people having new ways of proving their cases, we have a case that the evidence came from Snapchat. If someone is saying they were doing something in one location, and the defendant says I have a screenshot of the location that this person was really at? It is so interesting how social media is playing a big role in providing evidence in these cases because, people put all of their business on social media.
(laughs) That’s crazy. What advice do you have for young girls who are considering a career in law?
Be prepared to work hard and don’t be scared to do the work. My philosophy is, “work like it’s all up to you, and pray like it’s all up to God.” I worked hard in law school, but I also used to pray before I took exams. Also, people are always going to have an opinion about you; whether it’s based on what you look like, or where you come from. Never allow someone else’s opinion to be your reality. Stay focused on what you want to do and keep putting one foot in front of the other towards that goal.