PRESIDING JUDGE: The Honorable Judge Marilyn Milian

  1. (1981–1993) - Joseph Wapner
  2. (1997–2000) - Ed Koch
  3. (2000–2001) - Jerry Sheindlin
  4. (2001-2019) - Marilyn Milian
THE PEOPLE’S COURT was the very first real-life courtroom show that did not feature actors and actresses. It originally aired in 1981 with a stern but grandfatherly Judge Joseph Wapner. He stayed on the show’s bench until 1993.

To this day, Wapner remains the most-beloved judge ever featured on such a show. In the movie Rain Man the character of Raymond Babbit, an autistic savant, watches THE PEOPLE’S COURT incessantly and refers to the program simply as "Wapner." (He wasn't the only one! Many called the show "Judge Wapner" rather than THE PEOPLE’S COURT!)

Do you remember those old shows? There was Rusty the easy-smiling bailiff, and Doug Llewelyn in the hallway, reminding us: "If someone files a lawsuit against you and, you're convinced you've done nothing wrong, don't be intimidated. The best policy is to go to court and stand up for your rights." That is, in essense, how each show ended.

Back then, every show started the same way, too:

    "What you are about to witness is real. The participants are not actors. They are the actual people who have already either filed suit or been served a summons to appear in a California municipal court. Both parties in the suit have agreed to dismiss their court cases and have their disputes settled here, in our forum: THE PEOPLE’S COURT."

Over the years, the courtroom moved from California to New York City, and the opening lines were regrettably altered to the following tabloidesque sentence fragments:

    "Everybody's talking about the honorable Marilyn Milian, the hottest judge on television. Real cases, real litigants. Here, in our forum: : THE PEOPLE’S COURT!"
Um…yeah, that’s why we watch the judge shows… hotness.

On Wapner’s version of the program, legal consultant Harvey Levin would sometimes offer explanations of decisions made by the judge. Yes, that’s the same Harvey Levin who appears on EVERY show these days, standing in New York’s Times Square surrounded by rubber-necking tourists. And, yes, it’s the very same Harvey Levin who hosts the super-sleazy TMZ on TV show, which fills the airways with worthless celebrity gossip. But I digress…

Judge Wapner retired from THE PEOPLE’S COURT and later appeared in the show JUDGE WAPNER’S ANIMAL COURT for the Animal Planet channel. On this show every lawsuit involved an animal. The transition was likely a very natural one, as many of the episodes on THE PEOPLE’S COURT did --and still do-- feature dog bite injuries, pet custody battles and cases surrounding animal breeders.

After Wapner's departure, the former U.S. Congressman and former New York City Mayor Ed Koch sat on the bench for the next three years. Then, for a very short period of time, Judge Jerry Sheindlin (Judge Judy’s entirely nonabrasive husband) presided over THE PEOPLE’S COURT. Apparently viewers did not care to hear disputes settled in Judge Jerry’s forum, and he was removed from the show after a mere six months.

The bench is now occupied by Judge Marilyn Milian. With her quick smile, hearty laugh and fiery tongue, she is undoubtedly the only redeemable feature of the current incarnation of THE PEOPLE’S COURT. Her contempt for lawyers who appear before her is humorously palpable. And in reaction to dog bite cases, she frequently recounts a heartbreaking tale about her and her young children watching helplessly as their cat was eaten alive by a rogue dog. These personal touches are certainly what endear us to Judge Milian.


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