Joseph Wapner, ‘People’s Court’ Judge, Dies at 97 (Report)

The retired L.A. judge helped start the trend of reality TV and daytime court shows by presiding over “The People’s Court” from 1981 to 1993

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Judge Joseph Wapner, retired L.A. County Superior Court Judge and the first judge to preside over “The People’s Court,” died Sunday at age 97, TMZ reports.

Wapner served on the bench in Los Angeles for 20 years before signing on to the kick-off of “The People’s Court” in 1981. Over his 12 years on the show, he helped turn the syndicated daytime series into a cultural phenomenon, which led to the creation of other court shows like “Judge Judy” and helped established reality TV as a lucrative genre.

Wapner himself became a part of pop culture, as well, during his run on the show. As part of his performance in “Rain Man,” Dustin Hoffman repeatedly said the phrase “three minutes to Wapner,” which was quickly adopted by “People’s Court” fans.

“The People’s Court” still airs today, with Judge Marilyn Milian ruling on cases in the show’s 32nd season.

TMZ reports that Wapner had been hospitalized last week with breathing problems and was taken to his West L.A. home under hospice care after his conditioned worsened. He is survived by his wife, Mickey, to whom he was married for 70 years, and his two sons, David and Fred, the latter of whom has followed in his father’s footsteps and became a judge.