Judge Joseph Wapner of 'The People's Court' Dies at 97

Before becoming a TV judge, Wapner was a Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge for 20 years.

"The People's Court" was one of the granddaddies of the syndicated reality shows of today.

The cases Wapner tried on the show were picked by producers from Southern California courts and tried under rules that limited damages to $1,500, the report said.

Wapner, once regarded as the seminal figure of television mainstay The People's Court and a driving force behind current reality TV programming, is now dead at the age of 97.

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Born in Los Angeles, Wapner attended Hollywood High and then USC, where he got his undergraduate degree and then, in 1948, his law degree. His condition grew worse and he was sent home, under hospice care, where he died Sunday morning.

In addition to several guest appearances as himself on shows like Muppets Tonight and The Bonnie Hunt Show, Wapner returned to TV in 1998 for Animal Court, a short-lived spin-off series series about legal issues surrounding animals. "It was very important to me".

A 1989 poll conducted by the Washington Post showed that while only 9 percent of people could name the chief justice of the USA 54 percent knew that Wapner was the judge on The People's Court. He was replaced in 1993 by Judge Ed Koch. Wapner ruled in favor of Letterman, granting him $24.95.

Wapner first went to the hospital last week after complaints of breathing problems.