Jessica Attwood, of Rochester, a doctor of bioethics at Mayo Clinic, went to TV's "Judge Judy," but not because she was involved in a case.

As part of the upcoming 20th anniversary celebrations for the show, there was a contest for viewers to write 500-word essays on how Judge Judy influenced their lives. At the end of January, Attwood got a call from the show's producer saying she'd won the grand prize, from more than 75,000 entries.

As the grand prize winner, they flew Attwood and a guest (her sister, Emily Hagensick) to L.A. for three days, where they got to go to the CBS studio for a taping of the show.

"We got to sit in the front row of the audience and watch several cases" — everything from a mauled dog whose owner was suing for damages to landlord and renter disputes, automotive accidents and stories of bullying — "and they took us back to the control room and showed us all the camera angles and how it was produced and edited and things like that," Attwood said. "We also went out to lunch with Judge Judy and the rest of the crew.

"At lunch, Judge Judy hadn't heard much on bioethics before, so she was really interested in my field of work because it is heavily law-based," Attwood said. "We ended up talking a lot about reproductive law and how genetics is changing reproductive medicine, and we talked about issues of surrogacy and the decision-making rights, so it was an intense lunch conversation, for sure."

'Very to the point'

Judge Judy has the same personality off-camera as on, Attwood said.

"She is a spitfire, very to the point, and I admire that," She said. "She is not rude about it, just very to the point and doesn't waste anyone's time. She is not as intimidating as you might think it would be when it's one-on-one. She is definitely someone that I had always wanted to meet in person, but I didn't want to do it as a plaintiff or a defendant, obviously."

What made her essay stand out from the rest?

"When I was younger, I would spend a lot of time with my grandparents over the summers, and they were really into Court TV, so the tradition for my grandma and I was to watch 'Judge Judy' together every afternoon. I wrote about that being my first introduction to her and the show, but what she showed me was that you can still be successful in a field that is primarily male-dominated if you are confident in what you are saying and you are poised and well-spoken.

"It is more difficult for women, but you are still capable of doing it," Attwood said. "That was really important in that stage of my development because I was getting ready to leave for college, and I started with physics, which is primarily males, and then switched to medicine, which is also male-dominated, so even though it sounds silly, the way she held herself and how she didn't take any B.S. and how she is extremely logical in her decisions made me feel empowered and helped me conduct myself when I was asked to give a speech or defend a thesis or defend an argument or belief that I had.

"Now, I am trying to teach the same thing to my kids, my daughter especially, that she doesn't have to compromise," Attwood said.

Audience of actors

An interesting fact she didn't learn until she was in the studio: "The audience is entirely composed of paid actors. When we would have a break, the producer would come in and say, 'Numbers 11, 15 and 27, you guys are looking a little tired, why don't you go and take a break,' and then other actors would come in and replace them. People think all the time that you can just get tickets to the show, but that's not how it works; it's all just actors.

"The whole experience was fantastic, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for sure," Attwood said.

Watch for her on shows airing during "Sweeps Week" at the end of this month. You'll see her in the front row.