Nigel Holmes, a 16-year-old brought to Judge Glenda Hatchett's courtroom by his mother, tells the judge he's totally frustrated by his life and hopeless about his future: "Ain't nobody gonna hire me, I'm a black man from Georgia. If I see an old lady with a purse, I'm going to snatch it and run. I don't care about her, I know she has food at home."
In a special episode slated to air on the holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr., Jan. 20, Judge Hatchett sends Holmes, who already has spent two years of his young life in jail, to King's daughter, Rev. Bernice King, and civil-rights leader C.T. Vivian for a reality check. When Holmes returns to Hatchett's court, he tells the judge: "You saved my life, you really saved my life. This experience taught me that, if I try hard enough, I can succeed." Bernice King also appears briefly on the episode.
As part of her efforts to intervene on behalf of troubled youth, Judge Hatchett has added celebrity mentors to her court strip, which is produced and distributed by Sony Pictures Television. Besides King and Vivian, radio personality Steve Harvey, U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), boxer Laila Ali and professional football player Jerome Bettis all are mentoring kids for Judge Hatchett
"The longer that we're on the air, the more people understand what I am trying to do," she says. "People are really willing to help us, which is the good news."
The show is in its third season and was recently renewed for a fourth in 85% of the country and the top 10 markets. Ratings for the show are modest: It is in last place among the court shows, averaging a 1.6, according to Nielsen national ratings. That's down 6% year-to-year as of Dec. 8.
Hatchett came to the show after spending nine years in Georgia's juvenile-court system, where she used similar tough-love methods to try to turn kids around. At first, she turned down producer Russ Krasnoff's offer to do the show but changed her mind when she realized how many people she could reach over the airwaves. "My commitment is beyond television. It is trying to change people's lives."