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Andrew Napolitano quit the state Superior Court in 1995, complaining that judges were paid far too less than lawyers in private practice. But now he’s donning a gown again, and money’s not an issue. Napolitano, a partner with Newark’s Sills Cummis Radin Tischman Epstein & Gross, flew to Los Angeles last Tuesday to begin taping the latest courtroom show, “Power Of Attorney,” scheduled to premiere on Aug. 28. No, it’s not another “People’s Court,” where a crusty-but-benign judge dispenses rough justice to pro se litigants. “I do no yelling or screaming. I don’t tell these people they’re jerks,” the former judge says. “If I was going to do a show like ‘Judge Judy,’ I think people would not take me seriously.” In contrast with other shows of the genre, Napolitano’s cases will be staffed by lawyers, and not just any lawyers. Booked guests include legal bright-lights like O.J. Simpson prosecutor Christopher Darden; Edward Masry, the real-life boss of Erin Brockovich; Jack Kevorkian’s lawyer Geoffrey Fieger; and Dominic Barbara, whose clients include Joey Buttafuoco and Jessica Hahn. The producers, Twentieth Television and Monet Lane Productions, were looking for a judge with media savvy, says John Rizzotti, a Twentieth Television spokesman. Napolitano — who, as a weekly legal commentator for the Fox News Channel since 1998 and former weekly commentator for Court TV from 1995 to 1997, is no stranger to the camera — auditioned and got the part. And, unlike his days on the New Jersey bench, where judges are not allowed to earn outside income, he’ll be able to keep the money. Napolitano, 50, says he’s trying to carve a niche in the courtroom-TV circuit, hoping to distance himself from the judges on the other shows. Instead, he plans to conduct his TV courtroom the same way he did when he sat in Bergen County, N.J., from 1987 to 1995. The main difference is that he gets a chance to moralize at the end of the proceedings, sometimes lecturing the parties about what they did wrong. “This is really an opportunity for Middle America to see what a trial is like,” Napolitano says. The trials will be similar to a municipal or small claims courtroom, condensed into 22 minutes. Examples include a bride suing over alterations that allegedly ruined her wedding gown; roommates squabbling over outstanding bills; and a divorced couple arguing over who should pay for their child’s braces. Napolitano’s rulings will be binding, the parties cannot appeal, and the show’s producers say they’ll pay whatever judgments he imposes. Though Rizzotti predicts it’s more likely that the lawyers, rather than Napolitano, will be “overdramatic,” he says Napolitano “has no problem gaveling down and saying when the attorneys should be quiet … or who’s out of line.” He adds, “This is television, so it’s got to be entertaining.” For example, one case involved a 13-year-old who sued his father for not making good on a promise to pay him $25 for each “A” he earned on his report card. As it turns out, the dispute was part of a divorce battle between the boy’s parents. “I blasted the mother for using the court as an instrument of vengeance against the father,” Napolitano says. The producers were willing to craft a schedule to allow Napolitano to continue his day job. The shows will be taped each month in two, four-day segments, including weekends, using up about four workdays a month. In addition, 100 programs are being pre-taped, to be aired when his practice requires more of his time. Each day, he tapes about seven cases, he says. At Sills Cummis, Napolitano concentrates in complex commercial litigation and also handles First Amendment, legal malpractice, mediation, professional responsibility defense, and white-collar criminal defense matters. He also serves as a regular lecturer for the Law Journal, a faculty member at the New Jersey Judicial College, and an adjunct professor at Seton Hall University School of Law in Newark, N.J.

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