Judge Joseph A. Wapner celebrated his 90th birthday with the 2,392nd star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Leron Gubler, President and CEO of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, presided over the ceremony. Guests included Harvey Levin, Judge Marilyn Milian, and Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.
6922 Hollywood Boulevard on November 12, 2009
One of Hollywood's own hometown heroes, Judge Joseph A. Wapner was born in Los Angeles on November 15, 1919 to Max and Faye Wapner. Wapner's father was a Los Angeles attorney who occasionally appeared on the TV show, "Divorce Court."
Although he is best known for his 13 years presiding on the hit television show "The People's Court," Judge Wapner's distinguished career spans more than half a century and includes a military career, judicial career, entertainment career and participation in many philanthropic organizations.
Joseph Wapner is a product of the Los Angeles public school system, graduating from Hollywood High School in 1937. He attended the University of Southern California, where he received a Bachelors Degree in Philosophy in 1941. He entered the US Army in 1942, and distinguished himself in the Pacific Theater, earning three Battle Stars, the Bronze Star for Bravery and a Purple Heart which was awarded after he was shot in the foot and back while saving a man's life in combat. After the Allied victory, he was honorably discharged with the rank of First Lieutenant.
Home from the war, he returned to USC, where he studied law and graduated with an LL.B in 1948. He entered private practice the next year and quickly established himself as a legal talent to watch. This led to his being named to the Los Angeles Municipal Court in 1961; two years later, he was elevated to Los Angeles County Superior Court where he presided for eighteen years. During this time, Wapner served as Presiding Judge for two consecutive years. He initiated many reforms to the California Judicial System which helped the courts process cases faster and more efficiently. Wapner also served as President of the California Judges Association and as a member of the California Judicial Council.
For many people, this outstanding career would have been enough, but Judge Wapner went on to become the most famous Judge in America when he was named as the first presiding Judge of "The People's Court" in 1981, a Ralph Edwards/Stu Billett Production which is distributed by Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution.
Judge Marilyn Milian welcomes Judge Joseph A. Wapner back to the bench of "The People's Court" on Friday, November 13, to preside over a special case in honor of his 90th birthday.
Wapner was recommended for the job by a fellow jurist and close friend who was also friends with Ralph Edwards. For the next dozen years (and 2,484 episodes) his combination of common sense and legal knowledge played a large part in making "The People's Court" the gold standard of courtroom TV.
Wapner reflected on his groundbreaking experience on "The People's Court" as a gratifying instrument of education and is proud the show is still an enduring force in the ever-changing landscape of syndicated television. Wapner relished his tenure on the bench explaining, "It was a happy marriage of my love of the law and the entertainment profession." The combination of Wapner's charisma and take charge attitude launched "The People's Court" into an overnight sensation and was the beginning of a whole new genre of courtroom TV shows that still exists today.
Wapner retired from the bench of "The People's Court" in 1993, but was asked to come out of retirement once again to preside over Animal Planet's "Judge Wapner's Animal Court" which ran from 1995 to 1998.
He is also the author of the critically-acclaimed book A View From the Bench.
Outside the courtroom, Judge Wapner has been called upon to speak at many prestigious institutions including Harvard Law School, Yale University and the University of Texas Law School. In addition, he has accepted accolades from numerous bar and legal associations including the Philadelphia Bar Association, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, the California Judges Association, the Oregon State Bar Association, and more. Judge Wapner has served on the boards of many philanthropic organizations including the American Cancer Society, United Jewish Welfare Fund, American Jewish University, and he was a founding member of the Coalition for Justice. Wapner also served six years as the Chairman of the Board of Directors of Brandeis-Bardin Institute and oversaw the massive reconstruction of the campus after the 1994 Northridge earthquake.