SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Longevity in the entertainment industry is predicated on characters, show popularity, and a little bit of luck. In the case of “Judge Judy” the aforementioned trio graced TV sets around the world for over two decades. Carving out his own niche, Petri Hawkins Byrd, better known as, “Bailiff Byrd,” became a show mainstay as he worked alongside the no nonsense judge for 25 years. A job that would change his life forever. While taking leave from his counseling job at a high school to becoming “Bailiff Byrd,” Petri never imagined this leave of absence would spawn into a career as a celebrity. Life after “Judge Judy” sees “Bailiff Byrd” playing Judge Byrd on “The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder,” and he is also involved with “The Sterling Affairs,” which details the chaos surrounding former L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling.
Zenger News recently caught up with Mr. Byrd to discuss his time on the show and his current and future endeavors.
Zenger: In a lot of your interviews, your departure from “Judge Judy” is discussed, so I wanted to focus on your time on the show. Did you ever imagine spawning a 25-year career from that show?
Byrd: (Laughing) Bruh, anybody that tells you they imagined a 25-year career in an industry like ours, they’d be lying to you. Nobody anticipates that. And when it happens, it’s funny because you look up 25 years later and you go, man, I’ve been in this for 25 years. You know it’s God because you know there is no way you could have written this.
Zenger: And aside from “The People’s Court,” there was nothing to compare it to or gauge what would be considered successful, so it was an incredible run.
Byrd: It’s funny because, Judge Wapner who was our predecessor and set the tone for it all, I think they did 12 years. I remember Rusty [Burrell] his bailiff, when I met him, he said, let me give you the best piece of advice that I can give you. He said, “Save your money, because we did 12 years. That’s unheard of. You probably won’t get that kind of run out of this.” So, I’m glad he wasn’t the prophet on that. We doubled that bad boy.
Zenger: How much did your life change from being, Bailiff Byrd on “Judge Judy?”
Byrd: Wow! I went from total obscurity to being thrust in the eyes of the public on a regular basis. It’s from someone not knowing you then the next thing you know, I’m in their living room every day. That was unusual. When I first did the show, I was still working as a high school counselor. I took a leave of absence from June of ’96 to February of ’97. When I left, I was just Mr. Byrd. The guy on campus that all the kids dug. When I came back, I was a rockstar, man. Parents were bringing me their kids and going, “You better listen to him or he’s going to take you on “Judge Judy.” I had to look at the kids and go, “Nah man, I’m not taking you on there. Just do the right thing.”
Zenger: Is Judy Sheindlin a, what you see is what you get type of person?
Byrd: (Laughing). She is that combination of things. She’s that aunt that you have who you know that she loves the family, you know she has a heart of gold, you know there is nothing she won’t do for you, but getting past that thick skin is a chore. That’s what Judy Sheindlin is like. She’s no nonsense with everybody, her friends and family. Over the years I’ve met her friends, her grandchildren, her children, and they are like, “She’s just like that. Just the way you see her is who she is.” She’s a tough piece of leather, but one thing for sure, you always know where you stand with her.
Zenger: You are hearing the world’s problems play out right in front of you. We have witnessed you get angry, laugh, shake your head. Any case in particular sticks out to you more than others?
Byrd: The one that sticks out most in my mind is probably one of the shortest cases we had. It’s on YouTube. It’s a case where this young lady is suing these two guys for breaking into her car and taking her stuff. She’s going down the laundry list of things that were in her purse at the time. She says, “I had two ink pens in there, my keys, $40,” and the guy interrupts her to say, “There was no $40 in there.” Judge Judy looked at me and I think she said, “It’s liking shooting fish in a barrel.”
I’ve always advised people… and those of us that have worked in the courts and watched trials, know that the best defense is no defense. If it’s up to the other person to prove that you, did it. You let them prove it as much as possible. In the final analysis, you can deny that it happened. The worst thing you can do is speak out of turn and speak up about something before they finish presenting their case because 90% of the time you’re going to wind up shooting yourself in the foot. Don’t lie about something that you’re going to have to remember later, because a sharp judge like Judge Judy is going to pick up on that. They don’t see it while she’s up there, but she’s taking copious notes. She’s not depending on a court reporter to memorize what you said, in most cases, she’s already jotted it down and she’s waiting on you to trip up. She always says, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to have a good memory.”
Zenger: Getting started on the show in the late 90’s and gaining that popularity and maintaining it here in 2023, how have you adapted to the multiple ways of being contacted and viewed with the enhancement of the internet?
Byrd: When we started in ’96, the internet was young and so were we. There were virtually no cellphones. There was no immediate gratification. In order to know what the public thought, we had gone from letter writing that you put in the mail to emails. You got almost immediate gratification from that. Now, we have social media and you can find out exactly what most people think really quickly. It went from, this is my personal email that only me and the recipient is reading to social media where you post it up and it’s like hanging it on the wall in the post office. Everybody has access to it, and everybody can tell you what their immediate opinion is.
Zenger: Ms. Cynthia [Busby] told me that your other talent is, you have an amazing singing voice. Is this true?
Byrd: It used to be a hidden talent, but as of late, it’s not as hidden as it used to be. I’ve been a singer for quite some time. Never really a published singer. I’ve song on worship teams at church. When I was a counselor at a high school, the kids from the chorus would do their spring choral and they would ask me to come and sing a solo. I remember taking my kids up to the school one time, sitting them with the vice principal, asking the vice principal if she would watch them while I went backstage and got ready. I came out and started singing, she said, “If you could’ve seen the look on your kids face when you came out and started singing.” I didn’t understand why they were so surprised; I sing around the house all the time. It all depends on your setting I guess. I love when people come up afterwards and go, “Man, that was great. I didn’t know that you can sing.”
Zenger: I appreciate your time, thank you so much for the shout-out, and it sounds like we will have a lot to talk about in the future. Before I let you go, let us know some of the things you have going on.
Byrd: I’m on social media if anyone wants to keep up with me, byrdthebailiff on Twitter and Instagram, and Petri Hawkins Byrd on Facebook. I have a lot of great stuff happening. I have a guest appearance on “The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder,” on Disney Plus. And I actually play… you ready for this, Judge Byrd. They gave me my own theme song. Also, “The Sterling Affairs,” is probably going to come out in the fall. That’s about Donald Sterling and L.A. Clippers fiasco. It’s based on the podcast of the same name. I got a couple of other projects coming out, so just let the readers know, I’m not finished yet.
Edited by Joseph Hammond and Virginia Van Zandt
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