As Law and Order: SVU's ADA Casey Novak, Diane Neal has spent nearly a year throwing the book at bad guys. Sometimes this TV legal eagle's so carried away with herself, she feels like she is an attorney. A real judge recently had to give her a reality check.

"I was in court testifying about a woman who lives in my building," she chuckles. "At one point, the judge actually yelled, 'Ms. Neal, just because you play a lawyer on TV does not mean you have license to speak whenever you feel like it in my courtroom!' It was a humbling experience."

In tonight's episode (10 pm/ET), the pretend prosecutor goes up against one tough adversary — a corrupt judge who threatens to sabotage her. "I'm asking him to recuse himself," explains the actress, who often runs plot lines by her father, a real-life federal attorney. "When I told my dad, he's like, 'Oh, you're screwed. You never ask the judge to leave a case unless it's unbelievably clear he's never going to rule in your favor.'"

Neal's task wasn't made any easier by her preconceived notions of character actor Tom Skerritt, who guest stars as the jerk on the bench. "I was really hoping he'd be evil because he was in all those movies I watched when I was a kid, like SpaceCamp. He was the mean guy who wouldn't let them go into space," she reminisces. "And here he is, the nicest guy ever."

Skerritt's devious performance may be an act, but the rest of SVU is based on meticulous research. "Everything is about as accurate as you can get, even where the chairs are placed," Neal insists. "The only thing that's inaccurate is that in a real courtroom, you wouldn't have glasses and glass pitchers on the table, just in case someone decides to throw them."