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Watch John Lydon face Judge Judy in this tense 1997 TV showdown

John Lydon on the Judge Judy TV show
(Image credit: CBS)

“The people are real. The cases are real. The rulings are final. This is Judge Judy.”

Judge Judy was a reality television courtroom series which ran from 1996 until 2021, where former Manhattan Family Court Judge Judith Sheindlin presided over small claims hearings at Sunset Bronson Studios in Los Angeles.

Over the course of 25 seasons and a staggering 6280 episodes, one case stands out in particular. Former Sex Pistols and Public Image Limited vocalist John Lydon appeared on the show in late 1997, defending himself against a $5000 claim for lost earnings and "civil battery" filed by "disgruntled" former Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band drummer Robert Williams, who pulled out of a tour in support of Lydon’s 1997 solo studio album, Psycho’s Path.

It’s a complicated story, so let us refer to a document written by Lydon’s representatives ahead of the broadcast .

It reads: “Earlier this summer, Williams had been hired to play drums on Lydon's concert tour in support of Lydon's latest Virgin Records album, Psycho's Path. During rehearsals, Williams' behaviour became increasingly provocative, adversely affecting the camaraderie of the band. Under intense time pressure with confirmed concert dates looming, replacing Williams was not considered an option. Instead, Lydon's representatives scheduled a dinner meeting with Williams several days before the first concert date, hoping to discuss the situation and resolve various issues in a peaceful, rational manner.

“During the dinner – attended by Williams, Lydon, Lydon's manager, Eric Gardner, and tour manager – Williams became increasingly agitated. When Lydon excused himself to use the restroom, Williams continued to argue with Lydon's manager and tour manager in Lydon's absence. Just as Lydon was returning to the dinner table, Williams announced that if his demands were not met he was quitting the tour. As Williams made his announcement, he leaped to his feet and bumped the top of his head into Lydon's chin. Williams immediately left the premises on his own accord, leaving behind a stunned Lydon & Co.

“Faced with Williams' unexpected resignation, Lydon was forced to cancel the first tour date while frantically hiring and rehearsing a replacement drummer. The canceled show cost Lydon $6,000 in lost revenue, not to mention lost promotional opportunities and goodwill among disappointed fans. Rather than pursue Williams for recompense, Lydon considered the matter closed.

“In the weeks following the July dinner incident, Williams filed criminal battery charges against Lydon. The charges were immediately dismissed when police investigators determined that Williams' case was completely unfounded. A subsequent civil suit was filed by Williams in small claims court claiming damages of $5,000 in lost wages and ‘civil battery’.”

Got all that? Good. 

Judge Judy – who gave Lydon's remarks and somewhat theatrical defence short shrift in the courtroom – didn't feel that Williams' claim was strong enough and threw the case out, ruling in the vocalist's favour.

Following the court case, the Public Image Limited frontman spoke to the show about his legal victory.

"This is an insane business and people tend to be a bit... wack," he said. "I understand 'no', Judge Judy understands 'no'. Mr. Williams doesn't. I think he'd be better as a painter and decorator."

Here’s the clip:

Born in 1976 in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Simon Young has been a music journalist for over twenty years. His fanzine, Hit A Guy With Glasses, enjoyed a one-issue run before he secured a job at Kerrang! in 1999. His writing has also appeared in Classic RockMetal HammerProg, and Planet Rock. His first book, So Much For The 30 Year Plan: Therapy? — The Authorised Biography is available via Jawbone Press.