The New York Daily News by Jeff Wilkins - October 4, 2009
Don't look now, but here comes the judge.
Brooklyn lawyer Michael Mazzariello is taking justice out of the courtroom and into the neighborhoods on a new TV show, "Street Court." The straight-talking, self-promoting ex-prosecutor travels the country, holding trials right at the scene of the dispute. "It's Judge Mazz in 'the hood,'" said Mazzariello, 50, who can be seen locally weekdays at 1 p.m. on WPIX-TV. "We're in your house. We're in your yard. We're in your place of business." Since the syndicated show premiered Sept. 21, Mazzariello has handled 80 cases in New York, New Jersey, California and other states. The fact that he's not a real judge doesn't seem to bother the participants. "I got a real kick out of it," said Bensonhurst real-estate agent Maria Caputo, one of the first plaintiffs on the show. Caputo, 46, was embroiled in a dispute with a client over an apartment-rental commission. The case was tried in the kitchen, and she won. "It was a lot of fun until he [Mazzariello] started yelling at me," she said. "Judge Mazz was real professional. "He just didn't like it when I talked over him."
Mazzariello landed the show after he appeared as a legal expert on the CNN news program "Nancy Grace." Grace thought his in-your-face Brooklyn attitude was perfect for syndication and put him in touch with a producer. "I told him my idea about a judge on the scene and he loved it," he said. "Within two weeks, we had a demo tape." Since the premiere, "Street Court" has received requests from about 250 people eager to settle their cases without leaving the house. "There's no bench, no buffer, nothing between me and the litigants," Mazzariello said in his thick Brooklyn accent. "That's the beauty of it. Justice is making house calls." Mazzariello - who called himself "America's Judge" - has never presided over a case in a real courtroom because he's not on the bench.
The East New York native worked as an assistant district attorney in Brooklyn from 1990 to 1993 and chief prosecutor for the Board of Education from 1995 to 1998. He says that justifies his right to swing a gavel in the streets. "There are judges all over the United States that have never been attorneys and are sending kids to jail," he said. "At least I have 20 years experience as a lawyer behind me." And if people don't like his decisions, well, Mazzariello has experience with that, too. While working for the Board of Ed in 1998, he was heavily criticized after an unlicensed teacher was allowed to work in a Brooklyn school despite a previous arrest for throwing a keg party for students and sleeping in the same bed with two female pupils. Irate school officials and parents charged Mazzariello and another school system lawyer knew about the teacher's sordid past and did nothing. He resigned after the backlash but insisted it had nothing to do with the incident. Mazzariello set up shop as a defense lawyer and opened a nonprofit law firm in East New York. Now, he says, his focus is bringing justice to the people via the airwaves. "I'm having so much fun doing this," he said. "I only practice law now if someone really needs me. I guess my heart's too big to say, 'no' to some people."