The staff of a Manhattan arraignment court is surprised by the arrival of a maverick young judge named Harry Stone; his first ruling, that a feuding couple should go to dinner with the attorneys, results in a fight breaking out that injures Dan.
Bright young public defender Christine Sullivan finds out she still has a lot to learn after her first day in Harry's court, while Harry ends up throwing her overprotective father in jail for insulting him.
Selma's old boyfriend, Marty, comes after her again. While Harry is shut in his office for an annual file review, his super-efficient replacement, Judge Kopelson, charms the entire staff, but a background check reveals him to be a fraud.
A spiritual medium responds to Harry's contempt of court sentence by placing a curse on the courtroom. Harry thinks she's a phony, but Bull collapses, paralyzed, while Dan's accountant drops dead during an audit.
When Mac's wife, Quon Le, is accidentally arrested, both realize how much they love each other and decide to live together. Meanwhile, Billie and Dan find themselves competing for a commission appointment.
Christine Sullivan is permanently assigned as the court's public defender; grieving Selma's death, Bull goes on an all-night bender with a group of circus performers and arrives the next day drunk-and-disorderly.
A budget crisis in the state legislature freezes the paychecks of all city employees, including the court staff. Harry faces his own crisis when the law forces him to side with a sleazy landlord against a poor cleaning lady and her unstable son. When the son is shot during an attempted armed robbery, Harry quits.
Dan makes some extra money by hiring himself out as an escort to wealthy ladies, but is shocked when one of his clients wants him to go all the way and sleep with her. Yakov eagerly awaits the arrival of his wife and children from Russia, but panics when she doesn't show up.
Hijinks ensue when Harry throws a birthday party for Dan at his apartment, including Christine getting trapped in a magician's box, Quon Le's Vietnamese family threatening mass suicide, and Mrs. Lund from Juvenile Services arriving to check on Leon at the same time as a stripper.
Leon threatens to run away again when Juvenile Services attempts to take him from Harry and place him with a pair of geeky foster parents. Harry is so preoccupied that he misses a visit by Mel Torme, his idol.
After being mugged, Christine becomes belligerent and mistrustful, and unable to do her job as a public defender. She has to rediscover her compassion when her mugger is trapped in the cafeteria and threatens hostages with a grenade. Meanwhile, Phil gets a hot stock tip from an old Wall Street buddy, and Dan nearly bankrupts himself trying to wheedle it out of him.
Harry finds a random piece of information that leads him to track down his long-lost mother. He finds out that she's dead, but accepts the news calmly. When Christine asks him how he cannot feel loss, he coldly retorts that it's impossible to feel loss over someone who abandoned him before he ever knew her. This leads to a visit from Buddy Ryan, Harry's stepfather, who met his mother in a mental hospital... and he wasn't on the staff.
Bull is horrified to be told that his entry in a children's book contest was unintentionally violent, horrifying, and obscene. He breaks both hands punching holes in the wall, then goes to hide at the Natural History Museum. Dan is enticed by a woman with Dissociative Identity Disorder whose personality switches without warning from a prude to a sexpot, and back again.
Dan is hospitalized for surgery on a minor ulcer, but refuses to stay in the hospital. Insisting on returning to work, he eventually collapses and must return to the hospital in an even more serious condition. After foolishly attempting relations with Sheila while in his hospital bed, he falls into a coma.
While Harry's away a female judge fills in for him. And Christine talks back to her in court which leads to her being thrown in jail. Harry returns just as Christine's being taken away. Harry goes to see her and suggests that she apologize to the judge but she refuses. Harry offers to talk to the judge. And in the end, Harry spends the night with her. And when Christine learns about it she feels betrayed.
A woman arrested for swimming naked in Central Park claims to be a princess from a tropical island; Harry is convinced to help her escape her arrogant brother, the Prince, and her arranged marriage with the trollish Ogg. Meanwhile, the prince becomes smitten with Christine.
On New Year's Eve, a sweet old man brought into court on a minor charge turns out to be a convicted felon who has escaped prison to visit Times Square in memory of his wife; another man runs around the courthouse in a diaper, claiming to be the spirit of the new year.
Christine is engaged to Bill, the world's most boring human being. When she gives signs of cold feet (including throwing up in Dan's briefcase) the others try to gently (or not-so-gently) talk her out of it.
In the first of several "day in the life" episodes, the court has to process an unusually large docket (200 cases) before midnight - in this episode, to head off a federal judge's general amnesty setting free all defendants not arraigned by then.
Dan confidently expects to be nominated as a judge, but takes a blow when the committee picks Christine instead. Everyone else is happy for her, until they are told that Harry has been turned down for re-appointment.
Christine tries to convince Harry to fight for his job, but Harry rejects her advice, planning instead to play the ultimate prank, a stunt so outrageous and crazy that it will get the attention of the entire city.
Christine's about to start her first day as a judge but she's preoccupied with finding Harry to tell him that she convinced the Mayor to reappoint him. But he left before she could tell him and is planning some childish prank. And her first session doesn't turn out so well and she freaks out. And they try to keep anyone from finding out Harry's not around but when the Mayor calls Mac has Dan pretend to be Harry. And when someone comes to begin Harry's reappointment and when he sees Dan talking to the Mayor, he assumes Dan is Harry and he wants him to sign something but he can't. Mac says he can do Harry's signature problem is the guy needs to see him sign it.
As part of his grand prank, Harry prepares to hang-glide from the Brooklyn Bridge to the Statue of Liberty. He gets side-tracked when he meets Gus Melman, who's about to commit suicide by jumping. Back at the courthouse, Dan has to masquerade as Harry for his swearing-in ceremony.
While practicing an escape act for his Halloween party, Harry accidentally locks himself inside a safe and nearly suffocates to death; Dan thinks it's a joke when a man in a devil costume gives him $100 in exchange for his soul, but becomes afraid when the man seems to know everything about his past life.
Mac faces a dilemma when an old Army buddy who saved his life in Vietnam asks him to delete his prior record to avoid sending him back to prison. A Japanese businessman drops dead in court, and Bull installs the body in a motorized wheelchair to take it to the morgue, leading to it wandering all around the courthouse.
An aged actor famous for his Lone Ranger-type character refuses to take off his mask, even after his studio obtains a court order barring him from appearing as the character in public. He threatens to commit suicide by dropping a two-ton air conditioner on himself. Dan is tortured by the closeness of District Attorney Daniels's very sexy, very willing, and very off-limits niece, Kitty.
Roz is diagnosed with diabetes, and the new limitations on her lifestyle lead her to quit in frustration. When she accidentally takes an overdose of insulin, she wanders around the courthouse in a delirious stage, in danger of falling into a coma or dying. Meanwhile, a crazy man holds an original draft of the Constitution hostage with a cigarette lighter.
A delirious Roz is frolicking around on the edge of the courthouse roof, and Dan, Christine, and Roz's doctor have to talk her down to medicate her. Down in the courtroom, Harry has to stand between the crazy hostage taker and a squad of trigger-happy federal agents.
Christine's father, Jack, retires his taxicab and trades his apartment for a motor home, but stays with Christine while his R.V. is being outfitted. He soon drives her crazy, especially by making best friends with Dan.
Buddy's patronizing younger brother, Phil, convinces him to commit himself to a mental hospital for the rest of his life. Harry angrily objects. Meanwhile, Dan has accidentally destroyed Harry's entire collection of Mel Torme records, but tries to make up for it by shackling the man himself in Harry's office until Harry returns from Buddy's hearing.
Christine is throwing a party to celebrate the anniversary of Prince Charles and Lady Diana and invites the gang. But they don't really want to go so Harry tells them they have to. She learns what Harry did and freaks out. She runs into a guy who's an Anglophile and invites him to the party. When the gang arrives and meets him, they discover he's wearing a handcuff. That's when a detective arrives and informs them, he's a witness and there's a contract on him. So they are told to just sit tight. But when the hit man takes a shot, they try to get word to the police.
In another "day in the life" episode, the court staff has to finish 207 cases by midnight. If they do, the 207th defendant, a Texas millionaire with a gambling compulsion, will pay the money to save an orphanage from foreclosure.
Yakov needs a visa to re-visit the Soviet Union and see his sick mother. When he is denied, Harry takes up his cause, but is stunned by the arrival of a beautiful Russian consul. Christine is crippled by embarrassment when Harry makes an offhand remark about a near-invisible birthmark over her eye.
Mac inherits 2 million from his grandfather and then quits. And the gang has to deal with an incompetent replacement, who turns the court room upside down. Mac comes for a visit and showers the gang with expensive gifts. He is then sued by the owner of the building where Mac and Quon Le had their restaurant, which got damaged because of them. And they are being sued for more than what they have. And he goes out on Quon Le because it was her fault. And he wishes he can come back but because he gave his resignation he has to apply and wait for an opening.
It is revealed in this episode that Dan is a captain in the U.S. Army Reserves. When ordered to report for duty, he is terrified that he is being sent to a war zone, and goes to absurd lengths to get out of it. When he finds out his assignment is on a Carribean island with a buxom female officer, he changes his mind, but all his tricks catch up with him and as punishment he is reassigned to the Arctic Circle. A few days later, the court receives a message that his plane has crashed in Alaska, and he is presumed dead.
Dan has been rescued by an Eskimo family, but is cut off from the outside world. Back in New York, the court staff reads his will and tries to cope with his death. When Dan accidentally shoots down a small plane trying to signal it with a flare gun, the doctor inside breaks both hands, leaving Dan as the only one who can operate on a young Eskimo woman who has come down with appendicitis.
Dan operates on Kista, and after a tense night of waiting, finds that she has survived. At the same time, radio contact is made, and Dan is on his way home. He arrives, disguised by his beard, winter clothes, and scruffy appearance, in time to attend his own funeral.
On election night, Dan is running as a candidate for the state assembly. Christine is furious to learn that Harry has voted for him, touching off a fierce argument between them about what she sees as sexism. Then a fire consumes an upper floor of the courthouse, driving the staff to the basement morgue.
Harry needs a date to attend a banquet where he will accept a humanitarian award. He is pleasantly surprised by a chance meeting at the newsstand with a woman who shares some interests with him, and she accepts his invitation. But Harry gets cold feet when he finds out that Diane is an adult film actress.
While handling a group of trainee bailiffs, Bull becomes smitten with one, Rhoda, smitten enough to overlook her spectacular incompetence. One thing he can't ignore is when she accidentally loses custody of a psychotic woman who acts out roles in movies. The woman is next reported entering a cheap hotel with Dan.
While collecting for Toys For Toddlers, Bull accidentally takes a truckload of toys belonging to a Scrooge-like factory owner, who demands that they be returned. Since Roz has already passed them out, she refuses to take them back, and Harry has no choice but to jail her.
Christine gladly agrees to take care of a friend's baby for the weekend, but the experience turns out to be the opposite of what she expected. Harry enthusiastically pulls the staff into an office bet on his old college LaCrosse team.
A city accountant audits the court's expenses, leading to a series of flashbacks. Near the end of the audit, the staff and the accountant are taken hostage in Harry's office by a circus clown with a gun.
While a cable show is filming the proceedings in the courtroom, a sweet old lady appears in court with a hand grenade, asking for the staff's help in freeing her husband from prison. When they realize that her "husband" is a character on a soap opera, they are not sure how to deal with her.
Bull is encouraged to appear on a game show to win enough money to save his boys' club's gymnasium. To help him get over his jitters, Dan hypnotizes him, but inadvertently plants an obscene trigger phrase in his mind.
Harry plays up the role of an embittered judge hurting for cash, as part of a sting to nail gangster Marty Cologne. Christine, following Harry around, is taken in by the act, and tells Buddy, who reveals to Harry that he is his biological father. When Buddy lets slip the truth about the sting to Cologne, the gangster sends a pair of hit men to the courthouse.
A water pipe bursts in the holding cells, forcing the court staff to keep the inmates handcuffed in the hallways on the upper floors. The Court must finish its docket by midnight to relieve the pressure, while searching for three violent offenders who have escaped their bonds and gone missing.
Buddy is released from the mental hospital, and Harry invites him to live with him, unintentionally letting himself in for a world of aggravation. Dan hovers over a rent-controlled Park Avenue apartment, waiting eagerly for its elderly owner to pass on.
Bull saves the life of billionaire Jordan King, earning a spare-time job with him. Overhearing the details of a real estate deal King has going, Dan swoops in and buys the land, expecting to make a killing. Meanwhile, Quon Le's devotion to her new job selling cosmetics on commission forces Mac to help her, or face bankruptcy.
Dan receives a death threat and demands police protection. Sparks fly between Christine and the undercover detective sent to the courthouse. Bull carries a video camera everywhere around with him, filming his average night for his mother.
On Halloween, Mac finds a decades-old file stuck behind his desk drawer, on a case that was never finished because the defendant dropped dead in the middle of his trial. Soon, a series of poltergeist-style events convinces Harry that the man's ghost is haunting the courtroom. With the help of a medium, Harry and the staff hold a trial for a spirit.
Dan's prize new Mercedes is repossessed; after Bull has an angry argument with Rhoda, his girlfriend, he promises Dan the money he needs to get it back, if Dan takes him to a famous singles club. Christine receives a courtroom visit from a feminist judge whom she idolizes, but who gets the wrong impression when Harry asks Christine's help in performing a magic trick.
Buddy, Harry's dad, meets a wealthy widow who was in Harry's court. At the time he's wearing a captain's outfit, which he does not explain is his work uniform. They start dating and soon Buddy tells Harry he proposed to her and wants him to marry them. Concerned that she doesn't know enough about Buddy, Harry talks to her, but she says she knows everything. But just before the wedding Christine realizes that she does not. Meanwhile, Dan has been living in his office after going broke because of a failed business deal. but the office manager finds out and gives him until the end of the day to find somewhere else or he'll be moved to a much less desirable location.
Roz's pushy Aunt Ruth comes to visit her, trying for the umpteenth time to set her up with a man. Knowing that Ruth once took care of her whole family while her father was sick, Roz can't be her normally forceful self, and instead conscripts Mac to masquerade as her fiancé. A Zsa Zsa-like widow is detained at the courthouse when her diamond necklace is swallowed by another defendant's dog.
Dan receives a job offer from the most prestigious law firm in New York, and, as a favor to the hiring partner, arranges an early hearing for the senior partner's son, who is appearing on a shoplifting charge. Dan later finds out that the boy is a repeat offender, and the job offer was a scam. Dan brings a bribery charge against the hiring partner's son, but ends up facing disbarment for blackmail.
Dan is suspended from work while preparing for his disbarment hearing. Broke, he is forced to take a job waiting tables in a French restaurant under an assumed name. He has lost the will to defend himself, but his friends go to the hearing to stick up for him. Meanwhile, Roz and Christine's co-dieting is causing some weird behavior in both of them.
An attractive reporter comes to the courthouse to interview Harry; a jealous Dan listens to one of her tape recordings, and is shocked to find a steamy message on it. Unknown to either Harry or Dan, Christine finds out that the reporter is a lesbian, who publishes romance novels under a pseudonym.
An old vaudeville theater that Harry and Bull both remember fondly is targeted for demolition; Bull takes the extreme route and shackles himself to the front doors, while Harry tries to organize a benefit concert with the theater's old performers. In doing so, it is revealed that Mac used to be one of the Starlites.
A man claiming to be from the future (and armed with a working laser gun) takes the courtroom hostage, while two street punks are holding Dan. Bull tries the whole range of remedies for getting rid of his hiccups.
Tony announces that he is taking a job with the DEA and leaving for South America; on the spur of the moment, he proposes to Christine over dinner, and they are married in the restaurant. Meanwhile, Art is forced to leave his job during a dispute between the union and the city. In the hands of his pencil-pushing replacement, the courthouse quickly goes to pieces.
For Harry, it's love at first sight when he lays eyes on Margaret Turner, a bossy news reporter assigned to the courthouse. When she appears not to know he exists, he is so desperate to make an impression that he turns to Dan for advice.
A defendant pulled in on a minor charge claims to be the Angel of Death, and says that Harry has to release him. Harry jails him for contempt of court, but begins to feel uncertain as reports come in of people miraculously surviving fatal accidents all over the city. Even more worried is Dan, who own obituary has appeared in the paper.
A possibly-toxic chemical is spilled in the courtroom, forcing the gang to spend the night there in quarantine. Each of them tells a story about the turning point in their life that led them to the courtroom. Harry gave up his career as a magician after the only agent interested in him dropped dead; Christine lost the "Miss Buffalo" beauty pageant; Roz started out as a stewardess, but discovered her real calling after knocking out a hijacker.
The turning-point stories continue. Mac tells how he almost lost his life in Vietnam; Bull tells two stories, confusing himself with the protagonists of "Superman" and "Jack & The Beanstalk"; Dan tells how he lost his virginity to a client's young wife in Louisiana.
Bull's mother, Henrietta "Hank" Shannon, pulls into port to meet the gang. Dan, after being told that he's the only person named in Phil's will and spending money freely, in a cruelly ironic twist it seems that he's been named as a trustee of the Phil Foundation, in charge of, and required to give away, $8.1 million.
Harry loses all interest in life after Margaret leaves him. An angel (in the shape of Mel Torme) shows him what life would be like in the court without him: Dan is a rich and corrupt judge, Bull is his stooge candidate for mayor, Mac and Christine are the beaten-down court attorneys, and Roz goes to prison for resisting one of Dan's business enterprises. When Harry sees Dan seduce Christine, he chooses to live again, and the angel sends him on his way with a rousing performance of "Start All Over Again."
Mr. Billachi, an elderly former department store Santa, is brought into court for attacking the robot that replaced him. Disheartened by the commercialism of Christmas, he announces his intention to commit suicide, and Dan is the unlikely person who has to convince him that Christmas is still a time of giving and goodwill. His task is made harder by the fact that his normally cheerful co-workers are all complaining loudly about the mess-ups in their holiday plans.
Harry finally becomes buddies with Mel Torme by convincing him to appear as "Man of the Year" at his old fraternity's annual dinner. When he learns that the "Man of the Year" is actually meant to be the victim of a hazing at a public rally, he desperately tries to talk Mel out of it. Dan is employing Will as a bounty hunter and raking in reward money, but bites off more than he can chew when he sends Will after "Eddie the Machete." Bull gets a Walkman and listens to books on tape around court.
Dan tries to get into a newspaper society column, but the columnist is enchanted by Roz instead. Bull substitutes for Mac as court clerk. Lisette tells Christine about her erotic dreams featuring Harry.