Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

A French-language TV network has pegged Anne-France Goldwater to become Quebec's Judge Judy when it launches a homegrown version of the popular court reality show this fall. (Ivanoh Demers/La Voix de l'Est La Presse)
A French-language TV network has pegged Anne-France Goldwater to become Quebec's Judge Judy when it launches a homegrown version of the popular court reality show this fall. (Ivanoh Demers/La Voix de l'Est La Presse)

Tough-talking Quebec lawyer poised to become French TV's Judge Judy Add to ...

It's only fitting that Anne-France Goldwater proudly displays a life-size model of the Alien movie monster right behind her desk in her office.

The controversial family and divorce lawyer has been known to drip her own venom inside and outside the courtroom as one of Quebec's most opinionated and often foul-mouthed legal warriors.

So it's hardly surprising that a French-language TV network has pegged Ms. Goldwater to become Quebec's Judge Judy when it launches a homegrown version of the popular American court reality show this fall.

"I don't think I go overboard," said Ms. Goldwater, rebuffing criticism that she is often overly aggressive and needlessly confrontational. "I just have bigger balls."

Her precedent-setting cases have helped to change the face of family law in Quebec, and now her producers hope she will shake up the TV world as well.

"She's a real character," said Tim Ringuette, spokesperson for the V network, which chose Ms. Goldwater from a field of 20 candidates that included other lawyers, ex-judges and even two former provincial justice ministers. "She says things nobody else would dare say."

Her new half-hour weekly show, called L'Arbitre (The Arbitrator), debuts this September. Like the American shows that inspired it, it will feature ordinary people squabbling and no doubt yelling over broken promises, betrayals and other personal disputes.

"I was born to do this," said Ms. Goldwater, 51, who has done a fair amount of squabbling and yelling herself in a legal career that more often than not has pitted her against established law - and the legal establishment.

Even as a law student, she took on the Quebec Bar Association. Five months pregnant with her first child and just a few months short of finishing her bar exams, she wanted to step in to help clients left in the lurch after her father, also a lawyer, suddenly died.

The bar refused.

"There's the bar - French, Catholic, monolithic - and who am I? A little Anglo Jew," she said. "So they felt entirely comfortable shitting on my head because I'm not one of theirs. I'm outside."

She remained on the outside for much of her career, taking on controversial cases more mainstream lawyers would shy away from.

In 2004, Ms. Goldwater fought all the way to the Superior Court of Quebec for two gay men who wanted to get married, helping to pave the way for same-sex marriages in the province and, eventually, the rest of the country.

Ms. Goldwater gained more fame in 2009 when she took up the case of a woman who at age 17 had met a Quebec billionaire on a Brazilian beach and become his common-law partner, going on to give birth to three of his children. Several years later when their relationship ended, she filed for a $50-million lump-sum payment and $56,000 a month in alimony.

The problem was that Quebec's Civil Code denies unmarried co-habitants the right to alimony - but that wasn't going to stop Ms. Goldwater.

"I'm not a horse with … blinkers on," she said, using an expletive. "I don't accept that this is the limit of the law."

The ensuing saga of "Lola" and "Eric" - so dubbed since Quebec law forbids identifying parties involved in family disputes - gripped the province for weeks in what the billionaire's lawyers denounced as a "bizarre circus."

"Lola" lost her case initially, but Ms. Goldwater convinced the Court of Appeal to overturn the decision and rule that the province's law was "discriminatory."

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court of Canada announced it will hear the landmark case that could rewrite Quebec family law, once again putting Ms. Goldwater's battles at centre stage.

"She has advanced the cause of justice more than most lawyers in their whole lifetime," said constitutional lawyer Julius Grey, who taught Ms. Goldwater at law school. "She's not afraid to reach for the impossible."

Ms. Goldwater's zeal has earned her such nicknames as the "lioness of the law," but her detractors portray her as a "pit bull" more interested in her causes than her clients.

Prominent newspaper columnist Lysiane Gagnon once chastised her for turning the "Lola" case into a "noble crusade."

"She likes to hear herself talk," said one lawyer, who, like many of her critics in the legal profession, preferred to speak anonymously because he has to face in her court.

Even Ms. Goldwater's old nemesis, the Quebec Bar, voiced its concerns after receiving complaints about what she admits is her "fairly colourful" language.

Ms. Goldwater said the bar asked her to tone it down and be more "ladylike."

She refused. Politely.

"It's too late. God did not cast me in that way," Ms. Goldwater said. "I'm not a lady. I'm a lawyer and part of what makes me a good lawyer is my extreme not-ladylikeness."

Her new TV bosses hope Ms. Goldwater's fervour in the court will translate into fans when she steps in front of the cameras.

"She has a big star power," said Yves Thériault, the creator and executive producer of the new show. "But she's also very at ease at dealing with the human dramas we will be featuring."

He said Ms. Goldwater's compassion as a family and divorce lawyer will serve her well since reality court shows often highlight bitter breakups between tenants, neighbours or work colleagues, much like divorces.

"I don't think she'll be as abrasive as Judge Judy," said Mr. Thériault. "Americans are ready to be humiliated to get on TV, but I don't think they'll welcome that in Quebec."

Despite her "take-no-prisoners" approach to real-life courtroom dramas, Ms. Goldwater agreed, saying she saw her new TV show as a chance to educate people about the law.

"It's about having a clear sense of moral values - a sense of teaching people what fair play is all about," she said.

If the show takes off in Quebec, Mr. Thériault - aware that his judicial star is even more eloquent, and profane, in her native English than she is in French - would like to expand the franchise into the rest of the country.

Is Canada ready for its own Judge Judy in the form of Anne-France Goldwater?

"Goddamn better be because I'm planning to be there," she said. "I think it could be a source of entertainment - once their hair stops standing on end and they pick their jaws off the ground."

Report Typo/Error

Follow us on Twitter: @globeandmail

Next story




Most popular videos »

More from The Globe and Mail

Most popular