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Judge Judy defuses spat between men

The case of the bottle rockets aired Monday. The culprit didn't even have to pay the $940 judgment.

By JANE BOKUN

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 1, 2001


Don Baker couldn't believe it when he got the call from the producers of the television show Judge Judy.

"I was as surprised as anyone," said Baker, a Countryway resident from the Estates subdivision.

Baker, 50, filed papers in Tampa small-claims court about six months ago against Mark Taggart, 37, from the nearby Oakridge subdivision in Countryway.

Baker said Taggart had been shooting off bottle rocket-type fireworks for the past two years at New Year's Eve and birthday parties. Because Taggart's back yard borders Baker's, the rockets sometimes misfired into the back lanai and door of Baker's home, he said.

"I tried to be accommodating by telling him to stop, but my screens and my back door were seriously damaged, and he just wouldn't stop," Baker said. "One of the rockets almost hit my wife and frightened her terribly."

Producers for the reality-based court show spotted the case of the faulty fireworks while perusing court files from all over the United States. Baker and Taggart agreed to appear on Judge Judy, and their episode aired Monday on CBS-Ch. 10.

"They flew us to Los Angeles, put us up at a hotel and gave us $35 a day," Baker said. The pair also got an appearance fee of $100 apiece, and the show agreed to pay any judgments.

"It was great," Baker said. "In fact, Taggart said for he and his wife it was an all-expense-paid vacation to Los Angeles."

"We had never been there before," said Debbie Taggart, 36.

Before they could enjoy their vacation, Baker and Taggart had to duke it out in the TV courtroom of Judge Judith Sheindlin.

Sheindlin made a name for herself as a tough but fair judge in New York's Family Court. She began her TV career as host of the syndicated series, now in its fifth season, after she retired from the bench in 1996.

Baker explained his case before the judge and courtroom audience. When it was his turn, Taggart and wife maintained that the rockets were harmless and would have fizzled out before they hit Baker's roof, leaving only debris.

Unconvinced, Judge Judy awarded Baker $940 in damages. Taggart wasn't bothered that the judgment didn't go his way. After all, he didn't have to pay Baker; the show did.

The lawsuit didn't take any of the sizzle out of Taggart's love of fireworks, Baker said. "He was just shooting them off three weeks ago," Baker said.

But Mrs. Taggart said it must have been other neighbors shooting off fireworks. "I want Mr. Baker to know that we will never shoot off fireworks again," she said. "I just want this all to go away."

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