*Currently taping season 19 of the Emmy Award-winning highest-rated, nationally-syndicated TV program, “Judge Judy,” Petri Hawkins Byrd aka Bailiff Byrd talks about his time on the show, highlights and his surprising fan encounter with EURweb associate Tanisha Williams,
If you don’t know how Judge Sheindlin and Byrd came to be by now, this story is definitely worth repeating. Byrd worked as a court officer in the Manhattan Family Court system when he and Judge Judy Sheindlin met. Over the years, Byrd says they came to know one another pretty well.
“One of the things Sheindlin remembers most is that I do impersonations and one day she came back from lunch and I was sitting in her robe with her glasses on doing an impersonation of her,” Byrd laughs as he recalls the details. “I was in a courtroom full of people and she busted me doing it. I was very fortunate that she had a sense of humor and didn’t fire me.”
In 1990, Byrd moved to California and served as a Special Duty U.S. Marshall and a few years later started working as a student counselor at Monta Vista High School in Santa Clara. As fate would have it, one day Byrd was reading the newspaper, which featured a write-up on Judge Scheindlin’s book “Don’t Pee on My Leg and Tell Me It’s Raining,” and referenced that she had a television show in development. Byrd decided to write her a letter and congratulate her.
“I told her I hope things work out. At the end of the letter, I said, if you need a bailiff, I still look good in uniform.” says Byrd in a joking manner. Soon after, Judge Sheindlin offered him the job. “So, what started as a joke turned into a career.”
Byrd’s main role on the show consists of introducing cases, delivering materials between the judge and the litigants, dismissing the parties and escorting them out once the case is over. People are surprised to find that Byrd is a lot more animated off the set, than on the set.
“I have always threatened to call a case down as Archie Bunker, but, I tend to pull back once I’m in the courtroom.”
Byrd is constantly approached by fans and acknowledges that he wouldn’t be where he is without them. Byrd insists that he still looks at himself as just a regular guy.
“If someone stops me and wants to talk or take a photo, I’m going welcome them. I take the time to have lunch with my fans. If that’s what this fame thing is all about then I’m in.”
On a visit to Dr. Phil’s show, Byrd had one of his most surprising fan encounters when he was invited to meet Bishop T.D. Jakes.
“I’m a huge fan and was excited. I had my camera ready,” Byrd tells us. “So, when I get back there, he’s (T.D. Jakes) taking a picture with Dr. Phil and he stops in the middle of taking a picture with Dr. Phil and looks over and goes ‘is that Byrd over there?’ I go, yeah. He goes, ‘man, I’ve always wanted to meet you. My wife and I love watching you on Judge Judy.’ I go, but, you’re T.D. Jakes. Its times like that, which makes me, realize how popular our show really is.”
One of the many cases that left an indelible imprint on Byrd’s was an appearance by the infamous prostitute, Divine Brown from the Hugh Grant scandal. She came on the show to defend herself against her “manager” for a percentage of the proceeds that were acquired through interviews and tabloids. “That was a big deal and during our first season.”
When Byrd isn’t donning his bailiff uniform he enjoys stand-up comedy, doing voice over work and emceeing. He is also staying busy with two television pilots that will give his fans a glimpse of him in a different light.
“One is an hour long police drama and the other is a half hour situation comedy. The situation comedy allows me to actually display my talent. I play a mailman who was formerly a stand-up comedian and whenever he’s around he throws in one of his impersonations.”
Byrd manages to give his time as the National Chairman of the O.K. Program (Our Kids), which is a mentorship program that deals with high rates of incarceration and homicide among African American males. Additionally, Byrd works with the Teen Center USA, a program that provides a safe place and recreational and educational programs for disenfranchised youth.
Byrd has his heart in the right place and is committed to the show. When I asked him what he felt the draw of the show was and why it has lasted so long, Byrd said:
“Other talk shows tend to exploit peoples situations. I think America was looking for answers and Scheindlin came in and said whether you agree with her or not, you know that what you’re getting is the real deal. I think that’s what people want more than anything. They want someone who is going to be honest about the way they look at things.”
You can catch Petri Hawkins ‘Bailiff” Byrd emceeing for saxophonist Gerald Albright at the “Capture the Rhythm” Concert Series in Reno, NV on June 21st. Byrd is also emceeing the “One Act Battle” from June 23 -27 in Hyattsville, MD, don’t miss him!