Preschool teacher gets justice, Judge Judy-style

It was a case of love gone bad that could be resolved only by the highest-rated judge on daytime TV - Judge Judy Sheindlin.

It was a case of love gone bad that could be resolved only by the highest-rated judge on daytime TV.

A Charleston preschool teacher won a $2,532 judgment against an ex-beau this week in a court case fought under the bright glare of "Judge Judy's" television courtroom.

For her troubles, teacher Sarah Sugarbaker, 28, of James Island, got a reimbursement check, a quick trip to Los Angeles and a chance to seek justice from her TV hero.

Her ex got out of paying the judgment, which the show's producers promptly paid off after filming. The settlement payoff is a standard practice on most all court TV shows.

But former boyfriend Eugene Clinton Lappe IV did get a grilling from Judge Judith Sheindlin for refusing to pay up on the debt, which he said was given "to help me out of a bind," according to court records.

The judge laid it on thick, so much so that she commented on Lappe's heavy sweating in the courtroom.

The case stems from spring 2006, when Sugarbaker said she loaned Lappe more than $2,000 to buy and insure a used Jeep Cherokee. He never paid her back, she said.

They eventually broke up. He got another girlfriend and moved out of her home.

A jilted Sugarbaker called the show's 1-800 line and talked with a producer.

"I love Judge Judy," she said. "I pretty much watch her every day."

The syndicated show airs Monday-Friday starting at 6 p.m. on WTAT-TV Fox 24.

The first step, producers said, was for Sugarbaker to file a small-claims complaint in Charleston County Magistrate Court. The show won't take a case unless it is first filed in a legal jurisdiction, officials said.

The next step was to get her ex to agree to appear. After some delays, the producers agreed to feature their case in a March 14 taping. Squabbles involving former lovers are a common theme for producers, Sugarbaker said.

Both players were given about 10 days' notice in advance of taping. They were given a free flight to Los Angeles, two nights in a hotel and a stipend of at least $120 a day.

The show also involves lots of paperwork and release forms for agreeing to be shown on TV.

Gary Rosen, spokesman for the show, said another key stipulation for anyone appearing is that they must agree that the judge's decision is final, with no appeals allowed.

It's easy to see why the show is profitable for producers. Awards are usually capped by small-claims limits in the litigants' home state. As a Charleston County case, the limit for Sugarbaker was $7,500.

If a plaintiff is unsuccessful, the show doesn't have to pay out anything, Rosen said.

Although some cases are phoned in by the public, a team of staffers also scours court records around the country looking for TV-worthy cases, he said.

Sugarbaker said she learned a few things about the show that most home viewers don't see, including that the audience is given a lot of direction by stage managers.

The pace of taping is quick: Immediately after Sugarbaker's case was heard, she was sent packing to the airport in a taxi.

Although she was victorious and happy about her win, Sugarbaker said she wasn't sure if she would go on the show again.

"It's not as bad as 'Jerry Springer,' but it's not like going on 'Oprah,' " she said.

Sugarbaker was also billed about $200 to cover the California state taxes she owes in connection with her award and appearance.

Contacted this week, Lappe declined to comment about his losing appearance in front of daytime's highest-rated judge.

"That's something that's done and over with, man," he said before hanging up.