When Rhonda Wills picked up the gavel as judge on the new reality series Relative Justice, she entered the pantheon of no-nonsense dispensers of TV courtroom candor that includes such household names as judges Judy, Mathis and Mablean. Wills’ show, however, aims to distinguish itself from the pack by focusing strictly on family clashes. Clashes that include such issues as alleged theft, betrayal, and, yes, infidelity.
Wills implores the plaintiffs and defendants that stand before her to present the facts, so, we thought we’d follow suit (no pun, intended) and do the same. Below is a bit of “discovery” (OK, that one was intended) to acquaint viewers with Judge Wills and her show.
WHO SHE IS: Originally from Winona, Texas, this small-town girl went on to make it big as a powerful and influential civil attorney with her own Houston-based practice, which also has a satellite office in Los Angeles. “I represent everyday Americans, primarily against corporate giants,” the University of Texas at Austin law school grad tells EBONY. “I have spent my life and my career fighting against injustice.”
Like some of the other TV adjudicators, Wills isn’t a judge in real life; but with bragging rights of her firm having won in excess of $100 million for her clients, she certainly knows her way around a courtroom. “It’s an arbitration-based show, and so when I’m acting as an arbitrator, I am a judge,” she explains. “I have been an arbitrator as well as lawyer; I have arbitrated and decided civil cases.”
WHERE YOU’VE SEEN HER: News junkies may recognize Wills from her appearances as a legal pundit on outlets such as CNN; however, savvy reality TV show viewers may also remember her from her role on the 2016 WEtv reality series Sisters in Law. The series documented—in dramatic, and often incendiary detail—the lives, relationships and legal challenges of several Black female attorneys in Houston. Fans of the show recall theself-described dragon slayer as being outspoken and unapologetic on the series.
HER MOST MEMORABLE CASE: Though that killer instinct has helped reap large financial settlements in her cases, Wills highlights the human factor as offering the greatest returns. “I have represented so many people who, but for having me represent them, probably wouldn’t have a voice,” she says.
Wills cites a memorable case of a client who was a therapist about to complete her PhD, when she was hit one dark night by an 18-wheeler while on her way to see a patient in crisis. “She nearly died as she laid in the road; if not for a good Samaritan who stopped cars from running over her, she would have died,” shares Wills of her client. Her client pulled through after weeks in intensive care, but suffered brain damage, she adds.
The truck driver, Wills says, had been taking prescription drugs to allow him to continue driving after “extreme back pain and surgeries” and the company he worked for knew about it. “He had taken a number of prescription painkillers and should not have been driving taking those [medications].” Her client went from defending her dissertation to reading at a fourth-grade level. Explains Wills, “The only justice that I could get for her at that point was financial justice.
“We worked very hard on her case and also to bring about change within the company around changing policies on how they allow their drivers to operate to hopefully make the roads safer.”
With the “significant” settlement her client was able to get the therapy that she needed to get back on track, and was recently awarded her PhD.
HOW HER TV COURTROOM IS UNIQUE: “ Relative Justice is the only court show currently shooting where we deal exclusively with civil disputes between family members. All the cases and litigants that come before me are related by blood, marriage, or children. So, when you have civil disputes and you add in the element of family, things get dramatic pretty quickly.”
WHAT DOES IN TAKE TO BE A GOOD JUDGE? “I believe a good judge should listen to both sides, should apply the law, and should also apply the equities,” says Wills. “In other words, someone who’s caring and compassionate, who knows the law, will apply the law, and is going to be fair and listen.”
WHAT’S THE TAKEAWAY FOR VIEWERS? Wills stresses the universality of the issues litigants bring to her courtroom as something viewers should appreciate, basically the recognition that they are not alone. “I can tell you that virtually every case that came before me were things very familiar to me—things that had happened to me and my family or to my friends and their family or to clients or families that I’ve represented,” she notes.
“I am from a huge family—I have four children; I grew up with five children; my grandmother had 10 children, and I have over 50 first cousins. So, I understand the family dynamic,” she says. “I hope that when people tune in, they will see that disputes are being resolved.”