It requires traveling from Amityville, where she lives, to St. Petersburg, Florida, where she shoots, but Judge Debra Urbano-DiSalvo dutifully does so every week in order to preside over a mock small-claims court on A&E's "Court Night Live." The show, which premiered Aug. 10, airs Wednesdays at 9.
"It was so intriguing," says Urbano-DiSalvo, 66, of the opportunity to be a TV judge, "because, Number One, it's live. There is no editing to make everyone look good." And secondly — maybe it's a Long Island thing — she likes that it's shot at a mall, specifically The Mall at Sundial in St. Pete, one of three cities making up the Tampa Bay metropolitan area.
"I find when people are in a courtroom, many of them are intimidated by the courtroom itself and get tongue-tied," says the longtime Amityville Village Justice, who is also a judicial hearing officer at the Suffolk County Traffic and Parking Violations Agency and was the Hempstead Village Attorney for over a decade before retiring from that post in 2019. "The mall is less imposing — it makes people more relaxed and inclined to be their natural selves. The only drawback is it's outside in 90-degree weather at nine o'clock at night!"
She first became involved with the show — in which she and Judges Gayle Byers in Chicago and Paul Raleeh in Philadelphia hear cases live, with hosts Vinnie Politan and Judge Greg Mathis and commentator Vonda Evans, a former judge, broadcasting from New York — about four years ago when the producers "filmed a couple pilots in the Village of Amityville, where I sit as a judge." Those didn't fly, so the producers "tried a different avenue, and then came back to my videos, apparently liked what they saw, and recruited me for this show."
Urbano-DiSalvo isn't the first in her family to be recruited for a show. Of Italian, Russian-Jewish and Filipino ancestry, she is a cousin, she says, of the late Rey Urbano, who wrestled professionally from the late 1950s through the 1970s under names including The Great Kabuki (sometimes spelled Kabooki), and who inspired a latter-generation wrestler of that name. Her late uncle Herb Urbano at age 14 was in the ensemble of Robert E. Sherwood's Broadway play "The Rugged Path," starring Spencer Tracy, in the 1940s.
Additionally, she says, her Philippines-born immigrant grandfather Faustino B. Urbano broke ground in the U.S. Army during World War I. The Army had told him, she says, "You can serve, but only as a valet or chauffeur. He said, No, I want to serve alongside the men. They said, You can't because we only have a white regiment and a Black regiment — you're brown." But he persisted, she says, and "was technically the first nonwhite to serve in the white Army." While that particular claim can't be immediately documented, his service as a corporal is on record, and he is buried in Long Island National Cemetery in Pinelawn.
Urbano-DiSalvo — who has three grown children with ex-husband Robert Santucci and is the widow of Port Authority Sgt. Michael DiSalvo — was born in Jamaica, Queens, and raised from infancy in North Bellmore. She keeps a winter home in Stuart, Florida, but her Island roots are so deep she remembers the legendary Oak Beach Inn — where in a cocktail-mixing contest in 1972, bartender Bob "Rosebud" Butt created what is almost universally considered the original Long Island Iced Tea. Her boyfriend Robert "Smokey" Kohlhepp was a bouncer there and "was one of the taste testers," she says.
Appearing each week with West Islip's Pat Nolan as bailiff, the judge brings a hefty Long Island accent and attitude. If you don't get to see it live, she says, "They have each week's show [streaming] on demand. You can fast-forward past everybody else!”