Military Wiki
Joseph Wapner
Born November 15, 1919(1919-11-15) (age 102)
Los Angeles, California
Spouse(s) Mickie

Joseph Albert Wapner (born November 15, 1919) is a retired American judge and former television "judge." He is the first star of the ongoing reality courtroom series The People's Court. The court show's first run in syndication, with Wapner presiding as "judge", lasted from 1981 to 1993. This run lasted 12 seasons and 2,484 episodes. Unlike the show's second run which has been presided over by multiple judges, Wapner was the sole judge to preside during the court show's first run.

Wapner's tenure on the program made him the first star of arbitration-based reality court shows, what is now a most popular trend in the judicial genre. 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. Five years after presiding over the The People's Court, Wapner returned to television as a judge on the nontraditional courtroom series, Judge Wapner's Animal Court, lasting for 2 seasons (1998-1999 and 1999-2000).

Early years[]

Judge Wapner was born November 15, 1919 in Los Angeles[1] to Jewish parents. His father, Max Wapner, an attorney, immigrated to California from Romania while his mother, Fannie Friedman, was from Russia. He has a younger sister, Irene. Wapner attended Hollywood High School and dated actress Lana Turner once while in high school.[2] Wapner is a graduate of the University of Southern California (1941) and the USC Law School (1948),[1] 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 U.S. Army as a Lieutenant.

Legal career[]

Appointed by Governor Pat Brown to the Los Angeles Municipal Court in 1959,[3] Wapner served 2 years before being elevated to the Los Angeles County Superior Court, where he served for 18 years before retiring.[1] While serving on the Superior Court bench, Wapner also served as Presiding Judge in 1969 and 1970.[3] Wapner was President of the California Judges Association in 1975 and 1976.[1][3] He retired from the court November 16, 1979.[1][3]

The People's Court[]

Wapner presided over The People's Court from 1981 to 1993, a total of 2,340 half-hour segments.[1][3] On the show, he ran a respectful, serene courtroom and was known for his stodgy, easygoing manner. On the series, he conducted a binding arbitration which 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 Judge Joe Brown among others. After a 4-year hiatus, beginning in 1993, The People's Court returned to the air in 1997, though without Wapner, and still runs today.

After 12 seasons on The People's Court, it was announced that Wapner was not invited back to the court show in 1993, when the ratings had dropped to an all-time low.[4]

Wapner has stated that he was told years later that the show didn't want to hurt his feelings; however, he has stated that this is exactly what the show did. Wapner has also stated that he wasn't notified when the producers decided to revamp the series. He has stated he holds no opinions on the People's Court judges who succeeded him as he never watches the program. He did, however, note that the following two judges who succeeded him (Ed Koch & Jerry Sheindlin) only lasted 2 seasons whereas he lasted 12 seasons. He also emphasized that judges need to be respectful of litigants.[5]

On November 12, 2009, Wapner received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame,[1] 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 critical of Judith Sheindlin's style on Judge Judy.[6]

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 current Marilyn Milian era of The People's Court.[7]

Other Work[]

Wapner has also authored two books, A View from the Bench[8] and Judge Wapner's Guide to Small Claims Court.[citation needed]

Wapner has been active in Jewish causes, including sitting on the board of a Jewish school.[9]

On August 9, 2008, Wapner appeared as Judge in a Major League Baseball on Fox Pregame People's Court parody segment called "The Players Court".

Wapner was featured on the "Judge Wapner Root Beer" drink, featuring the slogan "I sentence you to drink my root beer."[10]

During 1999–2000, Wapner served as the national spokesperson for Singer Asset Finance Company, L.L.C., a specialty finance company, appearing in national television commercials and print ads.[11]

He appeared in the second episode of Sliders as himself in an alternate world where Soviet Russia conquered the USA; the People's Court is here a criminal court that hands out long prison sentences, and he is referred to not as Judge but as "Commissar Wapner".[12]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 Troutman, Andrew, Judge Joseph Wapner, Los Angeles Times, April 4, 1982, accessed November 26, 2013
  2. "Hollywood High School Alumni Website". Archived from the original on 17 December 2007. Retrieved 8 September 2009. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 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
  4. People's Court Free TV Show Tickets in New York City, New York Show Tickets, 2013, accessed November 26, 2013
  5. Joseph A. Wapner Interview, Archive of American Television, July 11, 2005, accessed November 26, 2013
  6. "Judge Wapner vs. Judge Judy: What A Match That Would Have Been". Retrieved 2009-07-22. 
  7. Judge Wapner is coming back to 'People's Court' this week!
  8. Joseph A. Wapner (November 1987). A view from the bench. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 978-0-671-63873-3. 
  9. Hernandez, Marjorie, Jewish University created: Brandeis-Bardin merges with Bel Air school, Ventura County Star, April 20, 2007
  10. Judge Wapner Cream Soda, Soda Pop Labels of Fame, Rocket Fizz, undated, accessed November 26, 2013
  11. Williams, Rob, Judge Wapner Shows DRTV Appeal; Singer Plans National Rollout, Direct Marketing News, November 12, 1998, accessed November 26, 2013
  12. List of Sliders cast members

External links[]

Legal offices
First Judge of The People's Court
Succeeded by
Ed Koch
(in the 1997 revival)

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