One of the most respected judges of our day, Joseph A. Wapner, died yesterday at the age of 97.
Haven’t heard of him? From 1981 – 1993 he was the TV judge who issued King Solomon-like decisions on the widely watched show The People’s Court. Judge Wapner lived a rich and productive life. With a nod to last night’s Academy Awards, in high school in Hollywood, he dated Lana Turner who went on to become a famous actress. He served in World War II and received a Purple Heart and Bronze Star, practiced law in Los Angeles for 10 years, and served as a judge on the California municipal and superior courts for 20 years. He even got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. How many lawyers can say that?
His show was the first of a long line of courtroom reality programs that continue today. OK, beginning in 1957 there was the Perry Mason show about a brilliant criminal defense lawyer who somehow always won his cases.
A poll showed that almost no Americans could name even one justice on our exalted Supreme Court, but more than half could name Judge Wapner, who heard small disputes about evictions and dog bites.
These two TV lawyers/judges revolutionized the court system. Wapner showed viewers they didn’t need lawyers. Mason inspired many of us young people to become attorneys and upped everyone’s game.
What is Small Claims Court?
Many disputes are relatively small and can be successfully handled by individuals in these “people’s courts.” The advantage is they can lead to a judgment without the delays and expenses that lawyers inevitably bring. These small claims courts can hear disputes involving damages up to $10,000.00. Case filing is easy, costs are inexpensive, legal evidence and pre-trial maneuvering are minimal, trial dates are quick, and a decision is rendered on the spot. What’s not to like? The only down side is that a favorable ruling can be easily appealed.
In personal injury cases, a small fender bender that did not cause bodily injuries is a perfect example of a claim that should be filed here. If a person is not able to negotiate a fair settlement of the value of his or her vehicle with the at-fault driver’s insurance company, he can file his own lawsuit.