Joseph Wap­ner, star of ‘The Peo­ple’s Court,’ dies

Cape Breton Post - - IN MEMORIAM -

Joseph Wap­ner, the re­tired Los An­ge­les judge who presided over “The Peo­ple’s Court’’ with steady force dur­ing the hey­day of the re­al­ity court­room show, died Sun­day at age 97.

Son David Wap­ner told The As­so­ci­ated Press that his father died at home in his sleep. Joseph Wap­ner was hos­pi­tal­ized a week ago with breath­ing prob­lems and had been un­der home hospice care.

“The Peo­ple’s Court,’’ on which Wap­ner de­cided real small-claims from 1981 to 1993, was one of the grand­dad­dies of the syn­di­cated re­al­ity shows of to­day. His af­fa­ble, no-non­sense ap­proach at­tracted many fans, putting “The Peo­ple’s Court’’ in the top five in syn­di­ca­tion at its peak.

Be­fore au­di­tion­ing for the show, Wap­ner had spent more than 20 years on the bench in Los An­ge­les, first in Mu­nic­i­pal Court and then in Su­pe­rior Court. At one time he was pre­sid­ing judge of the Los An­ge­les Su­pe­rior Court, the largest court in the United States. He re­tired as judge in Novem­ber 1979, the day af­ter his 60th birth­day.

“Ev­ery­thing on the show is real,’’ Wap­ner told the AP in a 1986 in­ter­view. “There’s no script, no re­hearsal, no re­takes. Ev­ery­thing from begin­ning to end is like a real court­room, and I per­son­ally con­sider each case as a trial.’’

“Some­times I don’t even de­lib­er­ate,’’ he added. “I just de­cide from the bench, it’s so ob­vi­ous. The beau­ti­ful part is that I have carte blanche.’’

“The Peo­ple’s Court’’ cases were tried without lawyers by the rules of Small Claims Court, which has a dam­age limit of $1,500. Re­searchers for the pro­ducer, Ralph Ed­wards Pro­duc­tions, checked claims filed in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia for in­ter­est­ing cases.

The plain­tiff and de­fen­dant had to agree to have the case set­tled on the show and sign a bind­ing ar­bi­tra­tion agree­ment; the show paid for the set­tle­ments.

In some metropoli­tan coun­ties, the num­ber of small claims cases more than tripled dur­ing the 1980s; some cited Wap­ner as a cause.

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