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Informal Modes Of Dispute Resolution In Judge Judy Law Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Film Studies
Wordcount: 3212 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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This essay will look at the ‘formulation’ of informal talk in interaction of the small claims court held by Judge Judy on national television. Numerous studies have been carried out into the role of formulations within formal court settings. However the study of formulations within a small claims court is limited, with only one study carried out by Fleur van der Houwen (2009) who identified four types of formulation: checking formulation, bridging formulation, legal formulation, and judgment formulation (van der Houwen 2009:2073) when looking at talk in interaction on the Judge Judy Show.

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For the purpose of the essay I will use the term ‘formulate’ as used in Conversation analysis, by which Conversation analysis researchers refer to formulations as the practice of proposing a version of events, which follows another person’s account to produce a transformation. Although Heritage (1985) does argue that formulations are ‘neutral’ in that they avoid commenting on or making assessments of the content of a prior turn, he states that formulations can ‘make something more of [a topic] than was originally presented in the … prior turn’ (Heritage, 1985: 101)

Thus a speaker will paraphrase and preserve characteristics of a previous utterance, then recast it. (Heritage and Watson 1979) A ‘formulation’ is the way in which members describe, explain, characterize and summarize or say in so many words’ (Garfinkel and Sacks 1970) or in the words of Garfinkel and Sacks (1970) it states “where we both are in the conversation” (Peräkylä, Antaki, Vehviläinen,2008) or in the words of Heritage and Watson (1979) “so your saying that x” A formulation has three purposes: to preserve, to delete and transform. (van der Houwen 2009)

On national television the culture of broadcasting produces ‘public talk’ that is ordinary, routine and familiar. (Hutchby, 2006) Scannell (1991b) states that all programmes are ‘audience orientated’ where talk is relaxed, sociable, accessible and non-exclusive, however there is a technique for producing public talk that is critical and taxing towards interviewees and especially fabricated for an over hearing audience. Where television presenters formulate a gist or upshot of the interviewee’s comments in pursuit of controversy for the audience. Heritage (1985) describes this formulating process as ‘glossing’ although it is rare in normal conversation; it is prevalent in institutionalised, audience-directed interaction.

Garcia (1991) states within a small claims court, turn taking constraints fluctuated accordingly to the phase of session. The main phase called story telling establishes the facts of the case and the conflicting interpretations of both litigants. The second phase, the negotiation aims to bring both litigants together to achieve a resolution (Maynard,1984) Just like a normal small claims court, Judge Judith Sheindlin featuring in the Judge Judy show, resolves small claims disputes in a televised version for the benefit of an over hearing audience.

This essay will look at formulations as the practice of proposing a version of events, which follows another person’s account to produce a transformation. (Heritage and Watson, 1979) in the cases shown on Judge Judy by looking at how Judge Sheindlin accomplishes the task of ‘dispute resolution’ by (1) Inviting or selecting litigants issues (2) Ignoring or discouraging litigants issues therefore transforming litigants opposing issues in co-constructing an agreed upon new story line so that a judgment is made.


The data for the transcripts came from real cases presented on the Judge Judy Show. Where the studio is modelled on a real life small claims court, with litigants representing themselves. Although the Judge Judy show is meant for entertainment purposes, with interaction being dramatized for the audience watching, it still provided excellent data in the study of ‘dispute resolution’. As all cases presented are real and not staged, the plaintiffs have sued the defendants. The show acquires people who were genuinely submitting their cases to a small claims court, however once on the show both parties sign a waiver that states Judge Sheindlin decision is final. As in most small claims courts in the USA the award limit on the show is $5,000, which if litigants win is paid out by producers of the show. As standard in all small claims court, Judge Sheindlin only sees half a page complaint prior to the taping of the cases. (wikipedia.org)

Although the Judge Judy show is based on a real small claims court, Judge Sheindlin and the litigants know they are being recorded for an audience, therefore not all talk is 100% naturally occurring.

The transcription data was taken from audio video recordings of the Judge Judy show, this enabled observation of facial expressions and body language while listening to recording. The Jeffersonian transcript was used in the notation of the data, as it was able to highlight features of intonation, context and body language of informal talk interaction used by the participants of the Judge Judy show, therefore a high level of notation was used as there a high level of interaction.

The Jefferson transcript is a very complex and technical transcription to use for students who are unfamiliar with the style. Therefore I am unsure if I have transcribed the data properly.


In a civil small claims court, the plaintiff has to present written documentation of the complaint being presented, with the defendant writing a statement in their defense. Judge Sheindlin has to establish the events that took place between both litigants.

3.1,Invitations formulate a transformation

Extract (1) Pointer Versus Lahai

Brian Pointer is suing his ex-fiance Monque Lahia for pouring bleach over his clothes, Monique claims Brian was cheating on her.

1 Sheindlin: mr Pointer,

2 >the defendant used to be your girlfriend<

3 >you used to really like each other<

4 >you don’t like each other anymore<

5 >you had a fight<

6→ Pointer: yes maam, ((nodding))

7 Sheindlin: and (.) during the fight when you came home,

8 it is your claim that the defendant damaged your property

9 → Pointer: yes maam, ((nodding))

In extract one Judge Sheindlin reads out the written complaint submitted by plaintiff, this formulates an invitation from the plaintiff to answer if this is correct as seen in lines 6 and 9 where the plaintiff answers “yes maam” this invitation perserves Judge Sheindlin’s understanding of the complaint being put forward, while giving the plaintiff the opportunity to correct any misunderstandings. Therefore the invitation formulates the story making process.

3.2 Selections formulate a transformation

Extract (2) Smith Versus Scott

19 year old Erica Smith used her college pail grant to loan money to her step father Max Scott, which he never paid back.

1 → Sheindlin: tell me mr smith,

2 → how did it come about that your

3→ stepdaughter gave you money

4 Scott: ((inaudible mumbling)) as far as pail grant goes

5 → Sheindlin: Yes ((gives stern look))

6 Scott: well I actually borrowed money

7 → Sheindlin: yes ((gives stern look))

8 Scott: cause I wanted to put some rims–

9 put a stereo in a car

10→ Sheindlin: what car?

11 Scott: the car I purchased for her

12 → Sheindlin: go ahead ((nodding))

13 Scott: I borrowed the money and she obliged

14 → Sheindlin: a::nd

15 Scott: an I don’t..err I decided to keep the money

16 because of her behaviour, her irresponsibility

17 not helping out around the house

18 → Sheindlin: is there something wrong with you?

19 I mean–

20 is there really something wrong with you

21 Scott: Mm:. Hh (0.9) ( arrgh erm

22 no I think there is something wrong with her

23 Sheindlin: n::o

24 there is something wrong with you

25 your in a court sir

26→ if you had no defense,

27→ (.) then shouldn’t have come here today,

28 when you come here and tell me you,

29 borrowed the money from her and–

30 then changed my mind about her irresponsible behaviour

31 which is what you are telling me

32→ Scott: [hmm maam ((interrupts))]

33→ Sheindlin: [shh QUIET ((shouting))]

34 which is exactly what you said to me

35 Scott: ((nodding))

36 Sheindlin: e::xac::tly

37 yeah you said I borrowed money from her

38 and decided not to pay it back

39 because of her irresponsible behaviour

40 and she did not take care of things around the house–

41 decided to keep money to put rims on the car

42 that’s what you said to me

43 Scott ma::am ((stutters)) but she said she was gona

44 give me the twenty five hundred to kind:a reconcile–

45 just for pass

46 → Sheindlin THAT’S NOT WHAT YOU JUST TOLD ME ((shouting))

47 Scott telling you that’s what happened

48 → Sheindlin THAT’S NOT WHAT YOU JUST TOLD ME ((shouting))

In extract 2 we can see Judge Sheindlin formulates an invitation from the defendant in lines 1-3 to answer why his daughter gave him money, this allows the defendant to give his side of the story in his defense. In lines 5 and 7 she says, “yes” quite sternly implying she is listening intently while this happens. This goes on through the case where Judge Sheindlin preserves her understanding of the case and keeps the defendant talking, this can be seen in lines 10 “what car” line 12 “go ahead” and line 14 “and ” However at line 18 “is there something wrong with you” signals a change in formulation, Judge Sheindlin has made up her mind about Judgment, lines 26-27 “if you had no defence, then shouldn’t have come here today” show this transformation. Judge Judy then selects the defendant’s defense of what he said earlier and repeats it back to him to illustrate she is not happy with his defense. The defendant tries to interupt as seen in line 32 “hmm maam” but is chastised by judge Sheindlin who shouts “QUIET” very loudly in as seen in line 32. Judge Sheindlin continues selecting his failed defense to imply he has lost by shouting “THAT’S NOT WHAT YOU JUST TOLD ME” lines 46 and 48.

3.3, Ignoring formulates a transformation

Extract (3) Shrimp versus Hunter

16 year old Jennifer Shrimp says her iphone was damaged when her schoolmate Ashley Hunter pushed her into the pool.

1 Sheindlin: you shouldn’t be pushing anybody in,

2 g::row u::p,

3→ if you make a mistake,

4 that’s what you have to do,

5→ you negligently ruined her iphone,

6→ simple,

7 it:s not rocket science

8→ what is rocket science?

9 → Hunter: rocket science is when scientists,

10→ find out things about space

12 HAHAHAHA ((audience laughs))J

13 Sheindlin: Mm:hh(3.8,)((looks over to bailiff to stifle laugh))

14 Bailiff: hehe ((Bailiff gives light laugh and shakes head)) 15→ Hunter: I (.) think

16 → I didn’t tackle her

17 → Sheindlin: you didn’t have to tackle her–

18 your actions caused the destruction of her property

From extract 3 we can see that Judge Sheindlin starts off well in formulating her argument towards the Defendant, the defendant must be guilty as line 3 Judy Sheindlin says “if you make a mistake” in line 5 “you negligently ruined her iphone” followed by “simple” in line 6 followed by “its not rocket science” show that Judge Sheindlin has made her case. Judy Sheindlin finally asks the defendant a rhetorical question “what is rocket science” in line 8 in which the defendant answered thinking she knew the answer by saying “rocket science is when scientists find out things about space” lines 9 and 10, the whole court erupts into laughter. Judge Sheindlin who normally has an answer for every question put forward by litigants is silent to respond. Judge Sheindlin formulates a response by ignoring the defendants comment and glancing across to the bailiff, who returns the glance by shaking his head while giving a snigger. Even when the defendant replies with an unsure “I think” in line 15 and looks towards Judge Sheindlin, the defendant is still ignored. It is not till the defendant’s next remark “I didn’t tackle her” in line 16 that Judge Sheindlin composes herself and answers the defendants question line 17 “you didn’t have to tackle her”

3.4, Discouraging formulates a transformation

Extract 4 Wyse Versus Gonzales

Miss Wyse claims that Danny Gonzales and his cousins shot out her windows with BB guns.

20 → Sheindlin: but how many different women-

21 do you have these children with

22→ Gonzales: (.) u:::m

23 → Sheindlin: just a second (.) just a second don’t want you to-

24 make a mistake (.) think about it–

25 for a second

26 Gonzales: hehe ((laughs))

27 Sheindlin: how many

28 Gonzales: about four

29 Sheindlin: what d::ya mean about four

30 → Gonzales: about u:::m four (.) including your daughter

31 Sheindlin: what you talking about

32 Gonzales: it was just a joke ma::am

33 OHHHHH ((audience))

34 → Sheindlin: let me explain something–

35 → (.) fre:sh mo:uth

36 Sheindlin: I am the only one that makes jokes-I am not..

37→ Gonzales: [this might be your show

38 but this is my episode]

39→ Sheindlin: no(.) no (.) no (.) no ((points finger))

40 no(.) listen to me (.) you have no episode

41 → you have to answer questions

42 that’s why you’re here (.) d:o y:ou u::nderstand

Extract 4 starts with Judge Sheindlin questioning the defendant about how many different women he had has children with, (missing from extract is the defendants earlier comments of having ten children, which led up to line 20) The defendants elongated answer of “um” in response to Judge Sheindlin earlier questioning elicits a satirical comment from Judge Sheindlin in lines 23 to 25 of “just a second, just a second” aimed at formulating a ‘gist’ or ‘upshot’ of the defendants earlier comments for the benefit of a audience. However the ‘gist’ or ‘upshot’ created earlier is turned around and played back at Judge Sheindlin when the defendant answers, “about um four, including your daughter” for the benefit the audience who all “OHHH”, when he replies it was joke. Judge Sheindlin takes control of the situation by discouraging the defendant’s behaviour as seen in lines 35 to 36 “let me explain something, freshmouth”. The defendant tries to formulate an “upshot” again in line 37 to 38, however Judge Sheindlin takes control again in line 39 with “no, no, no, no.” By discouraging the defendant’s earlier behaviour in the case, enabled Judge Sheindlin to propose a version of events as seen in line 41 “you have to answer questions” that led to a transformation in the case. The defendant understood what was expected of him.

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In summary, we can see how formulations can play a part in the role of dispute resolution. Invitations from Judge Sheindlin started the main phase of story telling in a small claims case, which formulated a transformation by establishing the facts. This helps to clear up misunderstandings and enables to correct information. These facts inform Judge Sheindlin of what is going on in a case as well as the studio audience and the audience viewing at home. Enabling the case the case to move to the next phase of negotiation in achieving a resolution

From extract 2 we can see how Judge Sheindlin selected the disputants previous utterance (his statement) then recast to state “so your saying that x” (Heritage and Watson ,1979) this formulates a transformation by allowing the disputant and the audience at home to see where the disputant stands in the case.

In extract 3 Judge Sheindlin ignores the disputants earlier remark of “rocket science is when scientists find out things about space” lines 9 and 10. Judge Sheindlin formulated a transformation by remaining neutral and not answering the comment of the previous turn. Making something more out the defendants comment than originally intended, the audience realised that even Judge Sheindlin who normally has answer for everything, was speechless.

Usually for the sake of an audience, television presenters formulate a gist or upshot of the interviewee’s comments in pursuit of controversy for the audience. However in extract 4 this role is reversed, when the defendant formulates a gist or upshot of Judge Sheindlin’s earlier remarks. However Judge Sheindlin discourages the defendant’s behaviour and formulates a transformation in the defendant defendant’s behaviour.

4, Conclusion

In conclusion this essay looked at how Judge Sheindlin accomplishes the task of ‘dispute resolution’ through Invitation, selecting, Ignoring or discouraging litigants so that a judgment is made. Where the role of formulations structured talk interaction by proposing a version of events, which follows another person’s account to produce a transformation. Therefore the role of formulations in dispute resolution is an important one enabling Judge Sheindlin as the story telling process would not allow

These formulations function to organize an interaction at a turn-by-turn level and at the level of the larger unit, as well as to manage topical transitions. As the analyses show, formulating has transformative qualities, in so far as it preserves and emphasizes some elements of earlier talk, deletes and deemphasizes other elements, and may transform earlier talk by re-casting it and making explicit what was implicit. I have illustrated that the four types of formulation, and, to a lesser extent, decisions as a second part to accounts, are important tools for Sheindlin to funnel conflicting stories into a transformed story line, from which her judgment follows


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