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Judge Larry Seidlin: Freak of the Week

February 23, 2007


JudgeThe Anna Nicole Smith ‘Soap Opera’ seems to be producing an endless supply of fodder for cable news audiences and tabloid lovers to savor, at least until the next distraction pops up (my money is on Britney Spears.)  We have already endured periodic updates on the condition of her dead body; absurd claims of paternity; and so-called journalists, so fraught with their own childlike giddiness, you almost forgot the horrible truths that lie at the core of this story.  

The most unique (and entertaining) character to emerge from this daily deluge of half-truths and pointless speculation, was the man saddled with the unfortunate duty of deciding the fate of Anna Nicole’s corpse.  People tuning in and expecting to see the (inescapable) drama surrounding this surreal case, unavoidably discovered a man that defied the conventional stereotypes we have long held for members of our judicial system. 

The Honorable Judge Larry Seidlin (looking surprisingly similar to comedian Jonathan Katz) stumbled into the ‘media spotlight’ late last week, as he casually leaned back in his chair, claiming “this body belongs to me now” and “that baby is in a cold, cold storage room” during the first part of his (now famous) hearing.  Heavily made-up turds, like CNN/Court TV’s Nancy Grace, blanched at his choice of words and casual demeanor from the bench.  Not since ‘Harry Stone’ presided over NBC’s Night Court,  has the home audience witnessed such an unconventional jurist.  This was no sitcom, it was the Circuit Court of Broward County, and it was responsible for deciding Anna Nicole Smith’s final resting place.  In a matter of minutes, an unexpected star had been born.  

Larry Seidlin was not cast as the zany judge in a made for TV movie, nor did he appear out of the ether.  Born in The Bronx, NY on May 24, 1950; he worked as a New York City cab driver to pay for his education before receiving a degree in accounting from Hunter College.  For the next two years, his studies continued at St. John’s University Law School in New York.  

Later, Seidlin relocated to Florida and earned his Juris Doctor degree from the University of Miami School of Law in 1972.  Before he was elected County Court judge in 1978 (reportedly the youngest ever at age 28,) Seidlin was a Broward County prosecutor and served as legal advisor to the Broward County Sherriff.  In 1989, he was appointed to Florida’s Seventeenth Judicial Circuit Court. 

Outside observers questioned his intentions (and his competency) as they watched him handle the Anna Nicole Smith case in front of millions of television viewers.  Attorneys with prior experience in his courtroom described what they saw from the man as ‘typical behavior.’  Even when his peers offered that kind of confirmation, it did little to keep the majority of  people from shaking their heads in disgust (I found his schtick rather refreshing.)

During the course of the Smith hearings, Judge Seidlin would make corny jokes at his wife’s expense;  address counsel, not by name, but by their individual places of origin (California, Texas or Houston, and Florida;) and share random bits of Broward Court trivia.  You were never quite sure what he would say next.  When he did make his point, he usually repeated it three times.  Yet, in the face of  often hostile (and sometimes fainting) lawyers, and the circus that followed them around (‘The circus is out there…it’s not in here, not in my courtroom’) he was able to wrap things up in four days.  Take that, Lance Ito!

It was hard not to find irony in the words uttered by Judge Seidlin’s fiercest critics.  Most of the ‘legal experts’ that dared to accuse him of hamming it up for the camera (suggesting that he was auditioning for a T.V. show of his own) were using the very same events to further their own careers.  The man had the difficult (and thankless) job of deciding who (out of the three unworthy claimants) would get custody of Anna Nicole’s decomposing body. 

I have no doubt that he handled this ‘dog and pony’ show the same way he would have treated any other case brought before him.  Because of all of the hype and attention that surrounded the event, the weight of his decisions had grown to unbelievable proportions (not unlike Anna Nicole’s mother) and reached well beyond his limited jurisdiction.  Most of us saw things through (what had become) an extremely warped lens.  

And at the heart of the entire matter was the baby girl left behind when her mother died.  As Judge Seidlin read the verdict, you could see and hear how moved he was by the weight of his own words.  In awarding custody of the body to Dannielyn’s guardian, he delivered a bunt, rather than the grand slam many had hoped for at the end of the proceedings.  Although his job was done, you were left with a feeling that it wasn’t going to be the last time you saw this judge.

For delivering (what I believe to be) a just ruling, following a bizarre week of events (both inside and outside his Broward County courtroom,) and for all of the intentional (and unintentional) comedic relief he delivered while hearing the case, I am pleased to crown Judge Larry Seidlin as our Freak of the Week.   

See you in the funny pages…

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