Lauren Lake ('Paternity Court') settles back into Atlanta

The syndicated world is littered with failure. In the "judge" arena, many names have come and gone in recent years: Jeanine Pirro, Maria Lopez, David Young, to name a few.

Lauren Lake, who is the lead on the sophomore show "Paternity Court," hopes to join established TV judge hosts such as Greg Mathis, Lynn Toler and and the queen of the block Judith Sheindlin and her dominant "Judge Judy" program.

Her show, which moved to Atlanta for its sophomore year from Los Angeles, was the top new syndicated program of the 2013-14 season. In many markets, she has gotten better time slots over season one. Locally, she remains at CW69 at 1 p.m with her second season starting Monday, Sept. 22.

And a sign producers like her: the show has been renamed "Lauren Lake's Paternity Court."

"I feel honored and humbled," she said over lunch at Lobby in Atlantic Station, just a few blocks from the studio at Georgia Public Broadcasting. "It's not something I asked for. The producers really felt my my advice, my presence in the studio is the driving force of the show."

A family law attorney by trade, she has a short fuse when she senses someone isn't being honest with her, but otherwise, she is empathetic and helpful from the bench. (One time, she told a blatant liar, "Check my name plate. Does it say Lauren Lake or Boo Boo the Fool?")

"Even when people are angry and furious," said executive producer David Armour, "Lauren tries to find a way to turn it around. She really tries to turn the energy and help them look to a positive place."

During a recent taping in her wood-laden faux court setting, the black-robed Lake faced a man who had been in jail numerous times for failing to pay child support but who seemed sincere in his desire to be a father to his daughter. At the same time, he wasn't sure if she was his daughter by DNA. So Lake opened the envelope and revealed paternity test results: he wasn't her biological dad.

The young woman started crying. The man hugged her and said, "I don't care what anybody says. I'll be there for you no matter what from here on out."

Lake let the emotion soak in, then said, "There is a scientific truth. And there's also a spiritual truth. The loving truth that you are a family... It take more than DNA to be a father. It takes love to be a daddy. You certainly have your daddy in this room."

Nope, this is not "Maury." It's more "Dr. Phil."

"People like to hear the advice I give afterwards," Lake said. It's not just about the "aha" moment.

She likes to know the "why" and get context beyond the test itself. "We've got people with flawed operating systems creating children," she said. "A lot of broken people come through our doors."

Credit: Rodney Ho

Credit: Rodney Ho

As a result, Lake herself said she sometimes gets caught up in the emotion and the pain.   One woman was convinced a particular man was her father and they even looked alike. But the paternity test proved otherwise. After the case was over, Lake went into her room and "I just lost it. I really wanted him to be her father!"

Lake herself said she was fortunate to have an intact, supportive family growing up, one that gave her the confidence to become a lawyer and also pursue other interests, including real estate, interior design and singing. She said she's done back-up singing for the likes of P. Diddy, Mary J. Blige and Jay-Z and from 2007 to 2010, she hosted an HGTV show "Spice Up My Kitchen."

Her theme is to "live life limitlessly." She is even recording a song about it.

"I now have a heightened sense of feeling grateful," she said, thanks to the show. "I'm humbled by the role my parents played in my life and the love they gave me. Now with my own husband and son, I can really appreciate the level of cooperation that it takes to raise a child."

When adult children on "Paternity Court" talk about how their fathers missed the time they learned how to ride a bike or didn't attend their high school graduation, Lake said she has flashbacks of the times her dad was there for her.

Sadly, she said they had no shortage of potential cases, receiving more than 4,000 applications. "That's how much this issue is prevalent in our culture," she said.

She and I had lunch the morning the Ray Rice video came out. She said the couple desperately needs counseling. "I couldn't imagine having to have everyone see that," she said. "In some ways, we become voyeurs, indirect perpetrators of that pain against her. I feel sick for her." As for her defense of her husband, "I don't hold any weight to what she's saying. It's only been that long. They need psychological attention." Plus, "my spirit said this was not a first time thing. This is clearly a volatile relationship."

On "Paternity Court," all participants are given the option to meet with a licensed psychiatrist right after the taping and they can spend as much time as they want with him or her. "We've changed flight times for people who need extra time," she said. She said they also try to provide resource contacts in their home state though it's obviously up to the individuals to follow up.

She also does update shows to see how people are doing later.

Moving to Atlanta works for her and her husband of six years, a high school coach in Fort Lauderdale because the time to commute is much shorter when she is taping her show. With a five-year-old son she nicknames "Munchkin," they juggle responsibilities and make it work, she said. (For privacy reasons, she didn't want her husband or son's name revealed. Their names are identical.)

She stays in Atlantic Station while taping "Paternity Court" but has visited her old haunt Kirkwood. (She and I lived on the same street for about a year in 1998-99 but didn't know each other.) "I'm amazed by some of the new architecture," she said.

Read my initial profile last year about her.

Here's a shot of us after our lunch earlier this month:

Credit: Rodney Ho

Credit: Rodney Ho

 TV preview

"Lauren Lake's Paternity Court," 1 p.m. (and 1:30 p.m.), weekdays, CW 69 (second season officially starts September 22)