You Are At: AllSands Home > History > People > Judge Greg Mathis biography
Things looked bleak a few years ago for young Greg Mathis. In jail on drug and gun charges, the high school dropout and been in and out of trouble on petty charges. He was also a member of the street gang, Erroll Flynn. He turned his life around, however, and instead of working against the law, he made the law work for him. He became the youngest judge in Michigan history and today is a television judge.

How did it all happen? Wayne County Judge Charles Kaufman gave Mathis the chance to avoid jail if he would obtain a GED, which he did at 18.
He also honored his promise to his dying mother to change his life.

Alice Mathis, his mother, had worked two jobs for her family, including Greg. She was a nurse's aide at Henry Ford Hospital at night and cleaned houses during the day. It must have hurt her deeply to watch her son expelled from two schools and drop out in the tenth grade.

Mathis graduated from the University of Detroit in 1988, but his past legal problems delayed his admission to the bar until 1992. He was later elected Superior Court Judge before being approached by Hollywood. Some wanted to make a movie of how he turned his life around. He did accept the chance to be a television judge, because as a criminal judge he could affect the lives of 15-20 people weekly, but he can now touch many more through television.

"I'm living proof you can overcome obstacles," Mathis told the Detroit News. "My message is one of hope and opportunity."

Many of the cases he had in criminal court involved young people who had dropped out of school. Mathis himself is street smart because of his past life, and he would always encourage people to stay in school. Judge Mathis wouldn't tolerate a disregard for the law in criminal court, and he won't in his television courtroom either.

Judge Mathis deals with a wide variety of civil cases on his show, and his decisions are legally binding. In one case a woman sued her boyfriend's ex-girlfriend for $5,000 for vandalism to her car as well as harassing her. Mathis noted both parties had harassed each other and gave her no money for that but did give $2,400 for damage to the car. Judge Mathis noted that the man, who was working while the television trial was filmed, had not only dated both women but was still legally married. He said the whole thing sounded like a "three ring circus. What's his name, Barnum and Bailey?"

He also ruled on cases in which a woman wanted a car title from her ex-husband, and a couple sued a family for allowing their dog to get loose and cause a car accident (the dog was killed) and many other types of cases. The judge won't tolerate anything less than the truth and wants cooperation in every case.

"When you double talk me like that it makes me think you're trying to avoid the plain easy truth," Mathis told the couple. He did award some money for the accident but also held the couple partially to blame for not being able to stop.

Even a former prisoner can be a role model. The judge was considered to head the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a civil rights group founded by Martin Luther King Jr.

Judge Mathis believes there is hope for anyone and told the Detroit News "you've got to learn from the past if you want a future." People can learn a lot from him.