Forget Shorty, Get Marvin!

How novelist Elmore Leonard's friendship with Palm Beach County criminal judge Marvin Mounts led to a popular book and a new TV show

Past TV judge characters have included the protagonist of the show Judge Roy Bean, a half-hour 1956 series that was turned into a feature-length film starring Paul Newman in 1972, and Judge Harry T. Stone (played by Harry Anderson), the jocular justice on the popular mid-Eighties series Night Court. But probably the best-known TV judge is Judge Joseph Wapner, the moralistic, paternal jurist on the long-running but now canceled People's Court, a syndicated program that paid nominal sums to both parties in small-claims suits. A new version of People's Court, currently in syndication, features former New York City Mayor Ed Koch as the judge.

Maximum Bob Gibbs will be a bit different. He will say all the things a real judge would love to say but can't. "But this guy's got the balls to say them," explains Gansa from his home in Los Angeles. "Gibbs takes it one step too far, and that's what makes it funny."

During the show's recent production period in Palm Beach County, Mounts showed Bridges around his house, including a peek at his orchid collection. One need not have been there to know what Bridges saw. Leonard's Maximum Bob gives a fair rendering of an abbreviated tour of Mounts' property:

She walked past the attached garage to the north end of the house, looking at a scrub growth and a line of Australian pines in the distance. The canal curved off in that direction toward the lake.... Another few steps would take her around the corner to the screened porch and the backyard, the judge's gardens, his orchids hanging in trees.

(A painting depicting Mounts wading through a swamp looking for orchids faces the judge's office desk. It is not a very good painting, but it does represent one of Mounts' true passions. Just like the character Bob Gibbs, Mounts has an extensive orchid collection at his home. The word orchid comes from the Greek orkhis, which means testicle, Mounts explains, apropos of nothing in particular, adding that in English an orchidectomy is surgery on one or both of the testes.)

The TV show's producers found Mounts' place so picturesque that they wanted to use it as Gibbs' house. But when it proved too small for filming, they instead used a stately brick mansion in Jupiter with two-story pillars, a feature that lends a suitably Southern feel.

In fact the whole show has a distinctly Southern motif, which explains why Gansa shifted the locale from West Palm Beach to a fictional Florida town he called Deep Water. At least for the pilot episode of Maximum Bob, Deep Water is really downtown Lake Worth, with that town's City Hall exterior standing in for Gibbs' courthouse.

Meanwhile, TV series or no TV series, Marvin Mounts continues to perform his judicial responsibilities. When he first decided to run for that vacant circuit court judgeship 25 years ago, he thought it was an opportunity to exercise power, he now admits. It was also, he believed, an opportunity to help people. Had he chosen instead to run for the state attorney's office that became available around the same time, he understood that he would be responsible for a staff that would succeed or fail based on their merits in the courtroom. As a judge, however, he knew that he alone would be held accountable. "If you're a judge," he remarks, "you're sort of off on your own.

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