I mean knowing the actual judge on a personal level
I'll put it this way: Add up the time you actually spend talking to him/her in a year. Average it out since you were in high school. Not the time when you are at the same neighborhood party or whatnot, but the time actually spent engaged in face-to-face communication. If it's more than 100 minutes per year, you probably know the judge well enough for it to make a difference.
(The point is: Yes, connections can make a big difference. But people tend to to grossly overestimate how good their connections are.)