The People's Court

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Dougllewelyn.jpg
Doug Llewelyn, the court reporter from 1981 to 1993.

The People's Court was the first widely popular American "judge show." in which actual small claims court cases are heard. It first ran in syndication from 1981 to 1993 for 2,484 episodes. It has currently run in its present format since 1997; the new version aired its 1,000th episode in 2003.

The judge for the show's first twelve years was Joseph Wapner. Rusty Burrell was his bailiff and Doug Llewelyn was the court reporter, who would announce the matter of the dispute at the beginning of each "trial". He would also interview the plaintiff and the defendant after the court ruling, to gauge their responses to the verdict. Llewelyn would often end each episode with a jaunty "Don't take the law into your own hands: you take 'em to court," which became something of a 1980's catch phrase. The People's Court dealt in small-claims matters, and as such would not deal with losses which added up to more than $1,500.

Researchers for the show would examine small claims filings in Southern California and approach the plaintiff and defendant in interesting cases. The producers would offer to have Judge Wapner mediate the dispute if they would agree to dismiss their action and be bound by Judge Wapner's decision (essentially a form of arbitration). Through this approach, the show could get real people with real cases.

Today, the small claims court will deal with matters up to $5,000. The new version of the show has been through three judges since its premiere: former New York City mayor Ed Koch presided over the court from 1997 to 1999, and judge Jerry Sheindlin (husband of Judge Judy judge Judith Sheindlin) made rulings from 1999 to 2001. Since then, the judge on the program has been Marilyn Milian, who has been the only Hispanic court judge on television. Marilyn Milian's bailiff on the show is Douglas MacIntosh. Curt Chaplin is the court reporter, and attorney Harvey Levin takes comments about each case from onlookers in Times Square.

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