Judge Joseph Wapner was a trendsetter. At a time when courtroom dramas were relegated to serialized and scripted television shows, the judge joined a more realistic setting as the first host of "The People's Court." His legacy remains secure even in death, as Wapner recently passed away.

Death of a judge

According to his son, David, Joseph Wapner passed away early on Sunday morning. He passed away in his sleep at home. He was 97 years old. The death comes a week after the man was hospitalized due to some issues related to his breathing. Since then, Judge Wapner had been resting at home under the watchful eye of hospice care.

Wapner is survived by his son David, another son, Frederick (who is a judge on the Los Angeles superior court), and his wife Mickey.

Legacy of the court

Wapner had just retired from being a judge in Los Angeles when "The People's Court" came around. He decided to audition, displaying his trademark no-nonsense persona. He got the gig and stuck around for 12 years, handling small claims cases and shooting the show into national syndication.

He was kicked out of "The People's Court" in 1993 amid flailing ratings, a disappointment to his many fans. It actually ceased production altogether, with the judge catching on with an animal-centric show that aired on Animal Planet. "The People's Court" eventually resumed and the show became a revolving door for judges afterwards, none earning the same respect Wapner did while sitting on his television bench.

It did help spawn "Judge Judy," though, the most popular show of its genre right now.

Wapner made one last appearance on "The People's Court" in 2009, in celebration of his 90th birthday. He also earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The Daytime Emmy Awards even created an award category that could be said to be in his honor: outstanding legal/courtroom program.

Among his contributions outside of the courtroom, Judge Wapner notably served in World War II, earning a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star. He was also actively involved in Jewish causes.