From "Judge Judy" to "Divorce Court" to "Judge Wapner's Animal Court," the airwaves are rife with ex-judges and judge wannabes.

They include Judge Joe Brown, Judge Mills Lane, Judge Greg Mathis and the new "People's Court" with Jerry Sheindlin (Judge Judy's real-life husband.)

But who are these judges and where did they come from?

Judge Judy (a.k.a. Judy Sheindlin) launched her show in 1996, after coming out with her best-selling autobiography, "Don't Pee on My Leg and Tell Me It's Raining." She is undeniably the queen of the TV judge shows, and has spawned copycats, spin-offs and "Saturday Night Live" satirizations of her "get over it" style.

Sheindlin started out as a prosecutor in New York in 1972 and was appointed to the Family Court bench in 1982 by then-Mayor Ed Koch, where she got a reputation as a swift decision-maker with no tolerance for excuses.

Her husband Jerry took the reins from Koch on "People's Court" last September, with a laid-back style that contrasts with his wife's. Like Judge Judy, Sheindlin shoots his show in Los Angeles, although the couple lives in New York. Sheidlin got his J.D. from Brooklyn Law School in 1959, and was on the bench for almost 20 years, including 13 years on the New York State Supreme Court.

Also shooting locally is the new "Divorce Court," which started last summer and features Mayblean Ephriam, one of the few TV judges who was never a judge in real life. Ephriam was a Family Court arbitrator and a trial attorney with a private practice, which she still maintains.

She was scouted by producers who liked her in-your-face style. Ephriam went through an audition process that included mock trials. "I've always been a smart-aleck and they liked that," said Ephraim.

Judge Joseph Wapner, a native of Los Angeles, is considered the granddaddy of all of TV judges. "Judge Wapner's People's Court" ran until 1993, when he was replaced by Koch. Now Wapner is the jurist on "Judge Wapner's Animal Court." He says that not being an animal lover helps him to make objective decisions in cases such as "Stud Fee Stand-Off" and "Zina's Mauled Mini." The show is taped in Burbank.

Each show's researchers scour court documents for appropriate small-claims cases. No lawyers represent the litigants and the plaintiffs and defendants are responsible for presenting their own cases. They also sign a waiver saying the judge's decision is legal and binding.

On most shows, the winning claimant receives damages set by the judge from a fund set up by the shows (not from the losing litigant), and the loser receives a fee for appearing on the show, which can run between a few hundred dollars to a few thousand.

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