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The defendant couldn't believe his ears. Shelby County (Tennessee) Court Judge Joe Brown was going to let the victim come to his house and take something as restitution for his crime. He wasn't going to jail, but he was being punished.
"Judge, why are you doing this?" he asked the judge.
"Now you know how it feels," the judge answered.
Later the judge said he could have sentenced the defendant to jail, but "what would he learn?" The defendant had broken into a woman's house and stolen valuables.

That case wasn't unique for Judge Joe Brown. Known for his unorthodox sentencing, he often allowed victims to go to thieves' homes to take something of equal value to what had been stolen. As part of his alternative sentencing, he has required other defendants to write on the "Autobiography of Malcom X." Some victims have taken such things as a color tevision or stereo under the watchful eye of deputies who go along.

Judge Brown has brought some of his same unorthodox ideas and tough-love to television. His show is the number two courtroom show in the country, second only to Judge Judy which is produced by the same people. The show has five million viewers.

Judge Brown came by his street smart ways honestly. Raised in South Central Los Angeles, he watched as many of those around him gave into peer pressure and went into crime. He went down a different path, however, and graduated at the top of his class from high school. He also graduated from UCLA Law School with top honors in 1974 and became the first African-American prosecutor for Memphis, Tennessee.

He was the only sitting judge in criminal court to also have a television courtroom show. He said on a television morning show earlier this year, however, that he would give up the bench but would keep his show. Judge Brown said he had so much to do, and people could learn a lot from his show.

Judge Brown said his decisions on the show are legal and binding.

The judge wears a black robe with stars on it. He has a publicist and is regularly mobbed for autographs.

Judge Brown rules on a wide variety of manners on his show. In one case a 28-year-old man sued his ex-girlfriend for $5,000 for money lent for a car, use of his credit card and $1,000 he claimed she gave to a friend for an abortion.
The man said he had given gifts to the woman and didn't want them back. The woman said the man only wanted "an eye for an eye," and everything was a gift.
The man said he had built a $600,000 house for the woman and given her a luxury car.
Judge Brown gave the man over $3,000--all but some money on the credit card.
"You got a lot out of this," the judge told her. He said he had told her "five times to talk to me" instead of her ex-boyfriend. He added he wasn't impressed by her behaviour.
The same day he also ruled on cases in which a woman sought the return of a spa and pool table from an ex-boyfriend and a county clerk sought the return of a wedding ring set she had given to a former co-worker when she borrowed money from him.
Just like Judge Brown never hesitated to speak his mind in criminal court, he doesn't on television either.
A told the woman seeking the spa and pool table " you shouldn't have stuck your nose" in her boyfriend's living trust. He told a man in another case who said he was raising his son to be responsible, "the devil you are."
Some people consider the law a mystery. Through Judge Joe Brown's television show and unorthodox style it might be more understandable to more people.