Retired Los Angeles judge Joseph Wapner has died at the age of 97. He is best known for presiding over the first reality courtroom show “The People’s Court.” During his 12-year tenure, Wapner taped over 2,000 episodes of a reality format which would later inspire other courtroom reality dramas like “Judge Judy,” “Judge Mathis,” “Judge Joe Brown,” and countless others. Wapner’s son David told the Associated Press that his father had been hospitalized a week ago for breathing problems, but had since been under hospice care at home where he died peacefully in his sleep.

“The People’s Court” first aired in 1981 and showcased Joseph Wapner’s no-nonsense approach to deciding real small-claims.

Prior to that, Wapner spent more than 20 years serving on the bench in Municipal Court and then as a Superior Court judge. In a 1986 AP review, Wapner stated that the reality show was real with no script, no rehearsals, or retakes. The cases were tried without attorneys. Plaintiffs and defendants signed binding arbitration agreements and had to agree to have their cases settled on the show.

The cases are real

Being one of a kind, “The People’s Court” was so popular that Johnny Carson once asked Wapner to settle a dispute between him and David Letterman. Carson had an old truck belonging to Letterman removed from his Malibu property. Carson said it was an eyesore. When Letterman got the truck back, the headlights were broken so Joseph Wapner awarded Letterman $24.95.

Judge Marilyn Milian currently presides over the revived “People’s Court” show. The show was recently parodied on “Saturday Night Live” wherein Donald Trump, played by Alec Baldwin, sought vindication for three judges who ruled against him.

He can now rest his case

Joseph Wapner received his law degree from the University of Southern California in 1948, served in the U.S.

military as an army lieutenant, and was awarded a Bronze Star and the Purple Heart for his service in World War II. Wapner is survived by Mickey, his wife of 70 years and two sons, two daughters-in-law, four grandchildren, and one great-granddaughter. His daughter Sarah passed away in 2015.

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