Joseph Albert Wapner (November 15, 1919 – February 26, 2017) was an American
judge A judge is a person who wiktionary:preside, presides over court proceedings, either alone or as a part of a Judicial panel, panel of judges. The powers, functions, method of appointment, discipline, and training of judges vary widely across dif ...
and television personality. He was the first presiding judge of the ongoing
reality Reality is the sum or aggregate of all that is real or existent within a system, as opposed to that which is only Object of the mind, imaginary. The term is also used to refer to the ontological status of things, indicating their existence. In p ...
court show '' The People's Court''. The court show's first run in syndication, with Wapner presiding as judge, lasted from 1981 to 1993, for 12 seasons and 2,484 episodes. While the show's second run has been presided over by multiple judges, Wapner was the sole judge to preside during the court show's first run. His tenure on the program made him the first jurist of Court show#Arbitration-based reality court show, arbitration-based reality court shows, which are now a most popular trend in the judicial genre.

Early life

Joseph Albert Wapner was born on November 15, 1919, in Los Angeles, California, to Jews, Jewish parents who had immigrated there; his father, attorney Joseph Max Wapner (1898–1992), was from History of the Jews in Romania, Romania, while his mother, Fannie (''née'' Friedman) (1900–1990), was from History of the Jews in Russia, Russia. Wapner had a younger sister named Irene. Wapner attended Hollywood High School and once dated actress Lana Turner while in high school. Wapner was a graduate of the University of Southern California (1941) and the University of Southern California Law School, USC Law School (1948), serving in World War II in between. Wapner was awarded the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star while serving in the South Pacific in Cebu. He was honorably discharged from the United States Army as a lieutenant.


Legal career

Wapner was an attorney in private practice for ten years. Appointed by Governor of California, Governor Pat Brown to the Los Angeles Municipal Court in 1959,Okamoto, Sherri M.
Wapner: From Jurist to TV Star to the Man on the Root Beer Bottle
Metropolitan News-Enterprise, July 17, 2009, page 3
Wapner served two years before being elevated to the Los Angeles County, California, Los Angeles County Superior Court, where he served for 18 years before retiring. While serving on the Superior Court bench, Wapner also served as presiding judge in 1969 and 1970. Wapner was also president of the California Judges Association in 1975 and 1976, and retired from the court on November 16, 1979.

''The People's Court''

Wapner was the first judge to preside over the court show ''The People's Court.'' His tenure on the program lasted from 1981 to 1993, making for a grand total of 2,340 half-hour episodes. On the series, he conducted a binding arbitration that was set up to resemble a small claims court by pitting parties, without lawyers, against each other. The legacy of the show's high popularity has led to myriad other similar syndicated courtroom shows, such as ''Judge Judy'' and ''Hot Bench'', among others. After 12 seasons on ''The People's Court'', Wapner was not invited back to the series in 1993, when the ratings had dropped to an all-time low. After a four-year hiatus, beginning in 1993, ''The People's Court'' returned to the air in 1997, though without Wapner, and still runs today. Wapner has stated that he was told years later that the producers did not want to hurt his feelings; however, he stated that this is exactly what the show did. Wapner also stated that he was not notified when the producers decided to revamp the series. He declined to offer any opinions on the ''People's Court'' judges who succeeded him, as he never watched the revamped program. On November 12, 2009, Wapner received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He and Judith Sheindlin of the television court show ''Judge Judy'' were the only two television jurists who have received the honor as of 2009. Wapner was publicly critical of Sheindlin's courtroom approach. On November 13, 2009, in honor of his 90th birthday on November 15, Wapner made a one-time-only return to the court show, acting as a guest judge, presiding over a case in the Marilyn Milian era of ''The People's Court''. Until the summer of 2013, Wapner also held the title of longest-reigning arbiter over ''The People's Court''. However, by completion of the court show's 2012–2013 season, Marilyn Milian captured this title from him and became the longest-reigning judge over the series.

Other media appearances and endeavors

Five years after presiding over ''The People's Court'', Wapner returned to television as a judge on the court show#List of originally nontraditional court shows, nontraditional courtroom series ''Judge Wapner's Animal Court'', lasting for two seasons (1998–1999 and 1999–2000) on Animal Planet. Wapner authored a book, ''A View from the Bench'' (1987, Simon and Schuster, ). On Alice Coopers 1983 album “DaDa” there is “Special Thanks to Judge Joseph A. Wapner” on the back cover. On June 27, 1986, Wapner appeared on the ''The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, Tonight Show'' to hear a case of David Letterman vs. Johnny Carson over alleged damage to the headlight of Letterman's pickup truck when Carson had the truck towed to the studio. Wapner ruled in favor of Letterman, granting him $24.95.


During 1999–2000, Wapner served as the national spokesperson for Singer Asset Finance Company, LLC, a specialty finance company, appearing in national television commercials and print ads. Since around 2010, the soda company Rocket Fizz has marketed a beverage, Judge Wapner Root Beer, featuring the slogan, "I sentence you to drink my root beer."

Personal life, final years, and death

Wapner was active in Jews, Jewish causes, including sitting on the board of a Jewish school. He married Mildred "Mickey" Nebenzahl in 1946. Their daughter Sarah died from heart disease in May 2015 at age 56. They also had two sons who became attorneys: David Miron-Wapner and Frederick Nathan Wapner, the latter of whom was a prosecutor and LA District Attorney who also became a judge (including with the Los Angeles County Superior Court). Wapner also had four grandchildren and one great-grandchild. Wapner died from respiratory failure on February 26, 2017, at his home in Los Angeles. He was 97 years old. He is interred at Mount Sinai Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles.


External links

* * * {{DEFAULTSORT:Wapner, Joseph 1919 births 2017 deaths United States Army personnel of World War II California state court judges Lawyers from Los Angeles Writers from Los Angeles USC Gould School of Law alumni Jewish American attorneys Television judges Military personnel from California Jewish American military personnel Superior court judges in the United States American people of Romanian-Jewish descent American people of Russian-Jewish descent American writers of Russian descent Burials at Mount Sinai Memorial Park Cemetery 20th-century American judges 20th-century American lawyers United States Army officers