“Hot Bench” judge addresses Criminal Justice Section

By Christian Nolan

Michael Corriero

Judge Michael Corriero, star of the CBS syndicated court series “Hot Bench,” recalled the time in 1973 that he defended an innocent young boy in New York City accused of a shooting.

Corriero went to the prosecutor and explained that the boy was “taking the heat” for a 16-year-old teen, that his client knew who the real shooter was and was willing to take a lie detector test.

“Together we worked to avoid a miscarriage of justice,” said Corriero.

And who was the prosecutor? Judy Sheindlin, aka “Judge Judy.”

Sheindlin apparently never forgot that case either. In 2015, she reached out to Corriero and asked him to be a judge on “Hot Bench,” a show she created after the success of her own.

“I said, ‘I’m not you. I don’t have the personality for it,’” recalled Corriero. “She said, ‘Be yourself.’ We talked about it and she made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.”

Corriero’s remarks came as he delivered the keynote speech during the New York State Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section luncheon Jan. 29 as part of Annual Meeting.

Instead of the hustle and bustle as a New York City lawyer, Corriero has a home in the Hollywood Hills. On days “Hot Bench” has tapings, he puts on his sunglasses, drives Sunset Boulevard, arrives at the studio and is met at the gate by a security guard where parking is for “talent” not judges.

“I don’t have a chambers anymore, I have a dressing room,” said Corriero, a former Court of Claims judge in New York County. “Instead of reading the Law Journal, I go to makeup. Then before I button up my robe, I’m given a microphone and an earpiece. The producer reminds me this is entertainment and gives me a gavel to punctuate my verdict. No longer am I concerned with dispositions, I’m concerned with ratings.”

Altogether, Corriero served as a prosecutor, a criminal defense attorney and a judge for 28 years in the criminal courts of New York state. He spent 16 years presiding over Manhattan’s Youth Part, a special court he created in New York Supreme Court that focused attention and resources on offenders prosecuted as adults per New York’s Juvenile Offender Law.

In 1999, he was honored with NYSBA’s Howard A. Levine Award for Outstanding Work in the area of children and the law

In 2008, he retired from the courts and become executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of New York City. Two years later he left to establish the New York Center for Juvenile Justice where he promoted a comprehensive model of justice for minors that treats children as children and responds to their misconduct with strategies designed to improve their chances of becoming constructive members of society.

Corriero said the Center’s advocacy was crucial to the enactment of New York’s Raise the Age legislation in 2017.

Three-Judge Panel
On “Hot Bench,” Corriero is one of a three-judge panel. The other judges are civil litigator and television commentator Tanya Acker and New York State Supreme Court Justice Patricia DiMango.

Last fall, the show returned for its sixth season and during its 2018-2019 fifth season, it was the number three first-run daytime television program with 3.1 million daily viewers.

Despite the show’s success, there’s still a part of Corriero that misses his previous life.

“I miss the majesty, the solemnity and gravitas of the criminal court, the real court,” said Corriero. “There’s something ennobling about it. You are dealing with probably the most precious commodity there is – freedom. You’re dealing with it in such a way that you are approximating justice for those who encounter the courts.”

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