Divorce Court is the longest running court show in syndication. It hits home with those in rocky relationships, it helps in giving advice when you may not even suspect that you need it, and, of course, it’s just pure entertainment. Judge Lynn Toler brings the brains, the sass, and the know-how when it comes to the courtroom. However, this ivy league graduate isn’t just about dealing with people’s troubles inside the courtroom. She’s an advocate for many causes including domestic violence and under-privileged young women. Not to mention, she’s a professor, a mother, and is currently writing her third book. Let’s hear about some of the amazing things this woman has done…
I understand you always try to stay involved with the communities around you. Let’s go back to your years working as a judge in Cleveland. Tell me about “Woman Talk”.
When I was on the criminal bench in Cleveland Heights I was always frustrated when I saw the same scenarios over and over again. Equally frustrating was my lack of ability to do anything meaningful to help. I often saw 18, 19, and 20 year-old women coming in to court who had several young children, had not finished high school, and were just barely making it. They came in on petty theft and assault charges. They were young women who were under-funded, over-burdened, and under pressure. Nothing I could do from the bench could fix their major problems. So, I went to a break-out high school of at-risk teens and started a group that I would see regularly to help them concentrate on getting through school, getting out without kids, and getting somewhere. The negative influences were constant, so my efforts had to be constant as well. We talked about what they were doing THAT WEEK. Was it getting them where they wanted to go? Did you do your homework? Are you getting in over your head with that guy? Why did you get so angry last week? Why are you angry today? I made myself the alternate ear and tried to help light up the better path on an ongoing basis.
What inspired you to get involved with this?
I wanted to give these girls a better shot at not seeing me later.
So, I know you were also involved with a few other support systems in the area against domestic abuse. Would you mind telling me about them?
I was on the advisory board of a domestic violence center and I headed designed to coordinate the police, court, and social workers so domestic violence victims would be less likely to fall through the gaps between the system. I currently sit on the board of GoPurple.org, an organization devoted to raising awareness about domestic violence.
Without doubt, it’s no wonder you were awarded The Humanitarian of the Year Award from The Cleveland Domestic Violence Center. How did you feel when you received this accolade?
It is the one I am most proud of. I tried hard to address the issue in a meaningful way. Still do.
Highly applaudable. It’s definitely an issue that hits home with a lot of people. Aside from your abilities as a judge and humanitarian, I know you’re a great writer and professor as well. Tell me about some of the books you’ve written.
I don’t know about being a great writer, but I do write. I have written two books that have been published and I am working on a third. My first book is called My Mother’s Rules which is part memoir, part self-help. It’s funny and it’s honest. It is also practical. I hate self-help that isn’t practical. My second book is called Put It In Writing. I co-authored that with Deborah Hutchison. It too is a practical book. It contains easy to read agreements for family and friends in uncomfortable situations like when a brother in law asks for a loan or your grown children return home and you want to get boundaries clear up front. The book I am writing now is about navigating marriage in this day and age. The tentative title is I Have Already Made That Mistake. I have been married 23 years and indeed, I probably have.
You’re also a writer for a Divorce Magazine, right? What kind of features and articles do you write for them?
I write about all kinds of things from current legal trends to emotional recovery.
As a professor, can you tell me about some of the courses you’ve taught and created.
I taught courses on Civil Rights and Women’s Rights to college students. I loved it! Teaching gives you the opportunity to refocus on what you know and requires you to look and it differently and more deeply.
So, your first television stint was for the national show Power of Attorney. How did you come to be a part of that project?
You know, I am not really sure. I was a sitting judge in Cleveland Heights, Ohio and I got a call from Twentieth Television that said someone thought you would make a great TV judge. They flew me out to LA that same week and I got the job about a month later. I still don’t know who it was that saw me.
Tell me a little about Decision House.
Decision House was a prime time television show I hosted in 2007. The idea was to bring couples who are in crisis to a house with experts to help them make decisions and change behavior to address the problems in their marriage.
Okay, let’s move the spotlight to Divorce Court. How does it feel to be part of the longest running court show on TV?
Of course, it feels great. As time goes on I am doing more and more to make the show my own and emphasize more positive outcomes whether the couples stay together or not. I am doing more counseling and giving away scholarships.
Well, when it comes to some of the people that come to you with their cases, do you ever feel emotionally jolted by some of their stories?
I am routinely afraid for the children of some of the people I see. When, how many, and with whom people have kids has become such a casual thing.
I totally agree with you on that. So many people have become cavalier with their choices in that area. Are there ever any cases that come into your courtroom and sometimes make it difficult for you to keep your cool?
People who don’t even listen to anything other than their own point of view make me crazy. You don’t have to accept my advice or counsel – and I give a lot of it - but listen and consider.
I hope I’m doing a good job here on the listening front. Ha. So, how has your being a part of the show influenced your career for the better?
It’s been everything. I enjoy just about every minute of my work day. That alone is priceless. It has given me great exposure for my books and other projects. It has also given me the opportunity to work with some great people. The work schedule has allowed me to be home with my boys for most of the last 6 years, which is huge. I consider motherhood a career.
Any general words of wisdom for those having relationship woes?
Learn to communicate effectively. To do that, you have to be an active listener. You have to want to hear and understand the other person’s point of view. When you understand what a person is truly looking for it is easier to find a way to compromise so you can both come away from a disagreement with some sense of satisfaction.