After three years on the bench of Fox’s reality-based TV show “Cristina’s Court,” Judge Cristina Pérez has etched a place for herself in both the entertainment and judicial worlds.
Although this is the final year of the show, Pérez and producers recently earned their second consecutive Daytime Emmy for “Outstanding Legal/Courtroom Program.”
Pérez, who is of Colombian decent, made her television debut in 1998 with “La Corte del Pueblo” before moving to Telemundo two years later with “La Corte de Familia.” In 2006, she became the first Latina judge to make a successful crossover from Spanish-language TV to English.
What were you thinking when you found out you had won another Daytime Emmy for “Cristina’s Court?”
It was like an out-of-body experience. You think, “Is this really happening to me?” You realize it’s happening not only to you but also to a group of incredible producers who put on an incredible show. We’re true to the law [and] to peoples’ problems. We tried to make every show one that people could sympathize with.
What was the biggest challenge crossing over from Spanish-language TV to English?
How I did my court show in Spanish and how I did it in English was exactly the same – my personality, my emotions and my goals. I needed to go out there and just be myself. If I tried to be anything but myself and tried to interpret the law that way, people would see right through that. If you think about it, legal issues are the ultimate reality TV.
High-speed police chases on “Cops” are one thing, but how do you keep the entertainment value high when a reality show is set entirely in a courtroom?
A lot of it comes from your personality. A lot of times “Cristina’s Court” is like a confessional. People try to tell you their life story in five minutes. I don’t know if that’s a trick I got from my mother. When Latinas get to talk, they learn a lot about a person. I love talking to people. A lot of times, these people just want to be heard, even if they are completely wrong.
Does it ever become hard to stay objective when you are getting so close to the litigants?
When it’s a case involving a child or a case where a family has been wronged, of course, I feel it. But you have to follow the law. Sometimes, your feelings and the law don’t match up. But the law is there to protect everybody. It’s the great equalizer among men and women.
As a Latina judge, what does an appointment like Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court mean to you?
It’s fantastic. She was picked because nobody could ever argue with her credentials. She knows the law. She understands the law. She works hard and loves what she does. The results of her work show that she is extremely qualified to be on the Supreme Court. For me, the most important part of her story is that she is living the American Dream. [Her appointment] teaches us that everybody contributes to this country equally. She is the prime example of that.
Before she was appointed to the Supreme Court, Judge Sotomayor was criticized for making her infamous “wise Latina” remark back in 2001. Did you understand what she was trying to say? Have you ever felt like you bring something different to the bench because of your heritage?
We all bring something different. I read up on the things she said and how they were said in context. Maybe what she should have said was that she has a different perspective. Somebody who has suffered and has seen discrimination first hand would probably defend the law in a different way. She knows that the law is what dictates and not her emotions.
Is this the last we’ve seen of Judge Cristina Pérez on TV?
TV becomes an addiction and a passion. It’s become a passion for me because I involve the law and express that with people on a large scale. It’s something that people need. If God blesses me with that, I’m not going to say no.