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Judge Wapner

In 1989, two out of three people surveyed by the Washington Post couldn’t name a single justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. But a majority knew Judge Wapner. Joseph A. Wapner had been a real-life judge, starting on Los Angeles’ Municipal Court in 1959 and moving on to that city’s Superior Court. The country, however, knew him as a TV judge, and mourned his death late last month at 97.

From 1981 to 1993 on “The People’s Court,” Wapner would cut through irrelevancies to get at the key facts of the case. “The participants are not actors,” the announcer said; “I know you’ve been sworn,” Judge Wapner would tell the parties and witnesses when he took the bench.

But it was real reality, not escapism. “The People’s Court”gave Wapner the opportunity to show millions the judicial process.

Judge Wapner was also a just jurist. For example, when one plaintiff told the judge to stop talking about the noisy infant he’d brought along, and later accused the judge of fighting with him, Wapner threatened to expel him from the courtroom for his disrespect. When that man won his case, and $353.25, the judge said: “I only wish that I could take off something for your obnoxious behavior, but I can’t do that. I decide cases in accordance with law and fact, and not on personality.”

That’s a fair judge, and a good model of judicial restraint.

This editorial appeared on the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and was distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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