Last Updated: March 28, 2024
Richest BusinessLawyers
Net Worth:
$8 Million
Nov 15, 1919 - Feb 26, 2017 (97 years old)
Los Angeles
Lawyer, Judge
United States of America
💰 Compare Joseph Wapner's Net Worth

What was Joseph Wapner's Net Worth?

Joseph Wapner was an American judge and television personality who had a net worth of $8 million at the time of his death in 2017. Joseph Wapner was best known as the first presiding judge on the reality television court show "The People's Court." He presided as judge on the show for 12 seasons from 1981 to 1993, making him the first-ever jurist of an arbitration-based reality court show. Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch hosted the show when it was revived in 1997. Ratings for the show tanked under Jerry Sheindlin, Judge Judy's husband, who headed the show from 1999 to 2001. Marilyn Milian took over in 2001. Wapner returned to television as a judge on the spinoff court show "Judge Wapner's Animal Court," which originally ran on Animal Planet from 1998 to 2000.

Early Life and Education

Joseph Wapner was born on November 15, 1919 in Los Angeles, California to Jewish immigrant parents Joseph Sr. and Fannie. His father was an attorney, and he had a younger sister named Irene. As an adolescent, Wapner attended Hollywood High School, where he dated actress Lana Turner. He went on to attend the University of Southern California, graduating in 1941. Wapner subsequently served in World War II, earning a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star for his service in the South Pacific. Upon his return, he attended the USC Law School, from which he graduated in 1948.

(Photo by Bob Riha, Jr./Getty Images)

Wapner served as an attorney in private practice for a little over a decade. After that, in 1959, he was appointed by California Governor Pat Brown to the Los Angeles Municipal Court, where he served for two years. Wapner was subsequently elevated to the Los Angeles County Superior Court, where he served for 18 years before his retirement; for two of those years, in 1969 and 1970, he was presiding judge. Additionally, Wapner was president of the California Judges Association in 1975 and 1976. He retired from the court in late 1979.

The People's Court

Wapner rose to national prominence in 1981 when he started serving as the presiding judge on the reality television court show "The People's Court." The first of the arbitration-based reality court programs, the show saw Wapner conducting a binding arbitration arranged to resemble a small claims court. He presided as the sole judge on "The People's Court" for the entirety of the show's first incarnation, which lasted for 12 seasons through 1993. After that, with the show's ratings at an all-time low, Wapner was not invited back, and the show was canceled. "The People's Court" was later revived in 1997, and was presided over by a few different judges until it was canceled again in 2023 after a total of 26 seasons. Wapner made a one-time-only return, as a guest judge to Marilyn Milian, in late 2009 in honor of his 90th birthday.

Joseph Wapner

Kristian Dowling/Getty Images

Judge Wapner's Animal Court

In 1998, five years after the end of the first incarnation of "The People's Court," Wapner returned to television as a judge on "Judge Wapner's Animal Court." Accompanied by bailiff Rusty Burrell, he heard various cases that involved animals. The show ran for two seasons on Animal Planet, concluding in 2000.

Other Media Appearances

Among his other appearances in the media, Wapner appeared on "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" in 1986 to hear a case between Carson and David Letterman over alleged damage to the headlight of the latter's pickup truck when Carson had it towed to the studio. Wapner ended up ruling in favor of Letterman, granting him $24.95.

In 1995, Wapner appeared as an alternate-universe version of himself in an episode of the science-fiction fantasy television series "Sliders." Later in the decade, he became the national spokesperson for the specialty finance company Singer Asset Finance. Elsewhere, Wapner was the namesake of Rocket Fizz's soda beverage Judge Wapner Cream Soda.

Personal Life and Death

Wapner was married to his wife Mickey for 71 years, from 1946 until his passing in 2017. They had two sons named David and Frederick who both became attorneys, and a daughter named Sarah who passed away in 2015.

On February 26, 2017, Wapner died from respiratory failure at his home in Los Angeles. He was 97 years of age. Wapner is buried at Mount Sinai Memorial Park Cemetery in LA.

Real Estate

In 2000 Wapner paid $1.45 million for a condo in Los Angeles. In March 2021, the condo was listed for sale for $2.6 million.

All net worths are calculated using data drawn from public sources. When provided, we also incorporate private tips and feedback received from the celebrities or their representatives. While we work diligently to ensure that our numbers are as accurate as possible, unless otherwise indicated they are only estimates. We welcome all corrections and feedback using the button below.
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