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“Sometimes It’s Ok Not To Be Nice” With Judge Tanya Acker of ‘Hot Bench’

“Some people think the best way to exert or show their power is by treating other people badly. This is a bad idea and don’t do this. I…


“Some people think the best way to exert or show their power is by treating other people badly. This is a bad idea and don’t do this. I could tell you many, many stories of people who have had their comeuppance as a result of not being nice and sometimes it is fun to watch that happen, especially when they’ve been a super-jerk. But that’s not really very nice at all — so shame on me! But SOMETIMES IT’S OK NOT TO BE NICE. If not offending people is always your first priority, that means you’re always putting yourself and your interests second. That doesn’t mean you should assume it’s open season to be a jerk — but sometimes people have a definition of “nice” that means “let me do whatever I want to you.” This is a bad definition of “nice” and don’t follow it.”


I had the pleasure to interview Judge Tanya Acker. From the top of her class at Yale Law School to working with the Supreme Court and President Clinton as an avid fighter for women and minorities, Tanya Acker now shares her legal mind on the Emmy nominated CBS hit show HOT BENCH, and we would love to have her share her unique perspectives as your go-to expert on current news headlines, or arrange an interview to share her inspiring success story. Tanya’s background in fighting for under-served communities and her decisive tone has made her a TV’s fan favorite judge. Always engaging and stirring on camera, Tanya has been featured as an expert guest on “Good Morning America,” “Entertainment Tonight,” “Wendy Williams,” “The Talk,” “The Insider,” “CNN Reports,” “Anderson Cooper 360,” “Extra,” “Your World with Neil Cavuto,” “CNBC Reports,” and more. Created by Judge Judy, HOT BENCH adds a new twist to the court genre, with the first-ever three judge panel that includes Tanya Acker, Patricia DiMango and Michael Corriero. HOT BENCH takes viewers inside the courtroom and into their chambers as they deliberate, making it one of the most popular programs on day time TV. Acker received her B.A. degree at Howard University before attending Yale Law where she represented low-income women in family law cases and served as a teaching assistant in Constitutional Law and Civil Procedure courses. She has worked at the Office of White House Counsel, the Civil Rights Division in the United States Department of Justice and various private law firms. Her work in private law includes working with President Clinton’s personal lawyers, as well as on the preparation of Congressional testimony for pending product liability legislation and First Amendment issues. After graduating from Yale, Acker served as a judicial law clerk to the Honorable Dorothy Wright Nelson on the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Her duties during that appointment included advising and making recommendations to Ninth Circuit judges about rulings on a broad variety of cases and preparing Judge Nelson for oral arguments on matters before the Court. After her clerkship, the Office of the Solicitor General in the U.S. Department of Justice awarded her a Bristow Fellowship. As a Bristow Fellow, her duties included drafting Supreme Court briefs. In private practice, Acker’s legal work spanned a broad variety of matters from civil litigation involving public and private entities, to various constitutional cases, to providing business counseling and advice. She also maintained a commitment to pro bono work, receiving the ACLU’s First Amendment Award for her successful representation of the homeless in a case against the City of Santa Barbara. As an influential community leader and advocate, Acker serves on the boards of Public Counsel, the nation’s largest provider of free legal services; the Western Justice Center, which promotes alternative dispute resolution; the Western Los Angeles County Council of the Boy Scouts of America (the WLACC does not discriminate on any basis); and Rainbow Services, which provides shelter services to victims of domestic violence.

Thank you so much for joining us! What is your “backstory”?

“Backstory”? I showed up. I grew up. I have great parents who made it happen. There you go — “backstory” 🙂

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your television career?

I had the chance to meet Don Rickles at the 40th anniversary party for the Judge Judy show. He said to me “If you were White, you’d be on the Supreme Court.” Unless he meant the Supreme Court of Open-toed Sandals, he was quite wrong but it was fun to be one of his targets. I went home and told my parents that I got “Don Rickled” and they got a kick out of it.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I’m writing a book about fighting better in court. People sometimes romanticize court — to think that the simplest way of solving a problem is “having your day” there — but it can be really tough on people.


Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?

The most interesting people I’ve interacted with recently are the faculty and administrators at East River Academy, the school for incarcerated kids on Rikers Island. Through Judge Corriero (my colleague on Hot Bench) I was invited to speak at the commencement ceremony. The students were moved and excited about the chance to steer their lives in a positive direction — and their inspiration was a clear result of the love, attention and instruction given to them by that extraordinary staff. They gave me a gift by allowing me to participate.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

A fact-checking crusade.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

1. KNOW WHY YOU’RE SHOWING UP FOR SOMETHING. It’s easy to get into a routine — maybe out of necessity or habit — but you never know where it’s going to lead. Before I had my show, I did a lot of TV showing up on other people’s programs talking about what they wanted to talk about, often having the chance to consider things only in the context in which they wanted to present them. Sometimes I’d say to myself, “Self, why are you putting yourself through this?” The answer was easy — I enjoyed it and what a great opportunity! But more importantly, it was good exercise. The world is full of people who sometimes want the exact opposite of what you do and it’s good to know how to encounter and deal with them.

2. BE NICE. Some people think the best way to exert or show their power is by treating other people badly. This is a bad idea and don’t do this. I could tell you many, many stories of people who have had their comeuppance as a result of not being nice and sometimes it is fun to watch that happen, especially when they’ve been a super-jerk. But that’s not really very nice at all — so shame on me!

3. SOMETIMES IT’S OK NOT TO BE NICE. If not offending people is always your first priority, that means you’re always putting yourself and your interests second. That doesn’t mean you should assume it’s open season to be a jerk — but sometimes people have a definition of “nice” that means “let me do whatever I want to you.” This is a bad definition of “nice” and don’t follow it.

4. DO YOUR HOMEWORK. BE READY. If there’s something you really want to do, learn how it’s done, and then learn how you could be a part of doing it or doing it better.

5. FORGIVE YOURSELF AFTER MISTAKES BUT LEARN FROM THEM TOO. People are unerringly human which means we will err. We will do it more than once. You can either 1) get locked into a pattern of thinking that you can’t change or 2) you can decide that you are human like the rest of us, cut yourself some slack, and plan to do better next time. Then execute on your plan. Don’t just talk about it.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Get it going.” -Aretha and Bill Acker. If that’s not an exact quote, there have been many, many variations of that. It’s kinda self-explanatory.


None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

JUDGE DOROTHY W. NELSON. She sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and my first job out of law school was as her law clerk. She started an organization, the Western Justice Center, which is devoted to alternative dispute resolution and I sit on its board. Among the many things she did before joining the bench was to become the first female dean of a fully accredited law school in the United States (USC Law School). She doesn’t just dispense justice — she models what it is to be a just and kind person. Plus she officiated at my wedding. She is my mentor and my professional mother although please don’t hold her responsible for anything I say or do on my show.


Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂

Lori Grenier. I feel like we’d come up with a product to make sure all kids could read.

Originally published at medium.com

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