Once called "the most famous judge in America," Joseph Wapner presided for 12 years on "The People's Court" TV show, handing down more than 2,400
decisions in front of the cameras with what became a famous no-nonsense approach. Born in Los Angeles, Wapner attended public schools until entering the military in 1942. He served in the South Pacific for two and a half years, earning a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. The day after his discharge, he entered law school at USC, and then practiced general law until he became a municipal judge in 1961. He retired from the bench after 20 years, worked in arbitration and then found his place on television. His first book was "A View From the Bench," and he has just completed his second, "The Secrets of Winning Small Claims Court." Written for the business owner who faces repeated small-claims cases, it's sold as an "e-book" and contains advice for plaintiffs and defendants.

Question: At what point in life did you know you wanted to be a judge?

Answer: My father was an attorney who always wanted to be a judge and didn't quite make it. I guess I wanted to accomplish what he didn't. And I really loved the law. I was a better judge than I was a lawyer.

Q: Is there a certain personality you need to be a judge?

A: You need a great deal of patience. I used to write on my yellow pad every day: "patience and restraint." You have to learn how to handle people. Knowing the law is a given, because you can always look it up.

Q: Did it bother you having to pass judgment on people?

A: Not for me. Some people think it's a burden, but I enjoyed it. It's part of my makeup I enjoy making decisions.

Q: But what is the satisfaction? Didn't you have to send people to prison?

A: They deserved it. When I was first appointed, Pat Brown said I should visit the prisons. So one summer, I took my wife and sons and we visited every prison. I attended a session in Vacaville, a program the prisoners conducted themselves called the Emotional Security Program. I noticed a prisoner there and said to the warden, "That man is very impressive."

Q: Then what happened?

A: He was getting out shortly. He was a drug addict. When I got back to court, I had a hearing that sounded familiar. It turns out I had sentenced him to Vacaville. He said, "I'm getting out now, and I need a job." I called an ex-fraternity brother who gave him a job in a shipping department. After a year he was the head of the shipping department. When he got married, I performed the wedding at my house. I still hear from him occasionally. So I had some luck.


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