Thursday, July 17, 2009
Wapner: From Jurist to TV Star to the Man on the Root Beer Bottle
By SHERRI M. OKAMOTO, Staff Writer
As the star of “People’s Court” in the early 1980s, retired Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Joseph A. Wapner was a daily presence in millions of homes around the world. Almost 30 years later, the jurist’s stern visage has returned to public view, only this time on a soft drink label instead of a small screen.
Wapner says his cousin, Robert Powells, a soda- and sweet-shop proprietor, came up with the idea of creating Judge Wapner Root Beer.
Powells recalls the inspiration for the brand struck him last year when he and Wapner were at an Angels baseball game.
“He was telling me how much he loves root beer,” Powells explained, “so I said, why don’t we just bottle a Judge Wapner root beer drink?”
The former judge discloses that he’s “always liked root beer since I was a little kid,” and his cousin “convinced me it would be a good product, so I said O.K.”
His favorite thing about root beer, he says, is “the taste,” and Powells describes the Judge Wapner drink as having a “very traditional flavor,” similar to the types of root beer Wapner drank as a child.
The beverage was launched June 13 with a celebration at Powell’s store, Rocket Fizz Soda and Candy Shop, in Camarillo. Another Rocket Fizz outlet is located in Burbank, and the drink is also available at rocketfizz.com.
Bristol Farms stores and about two dozen local markets also carry the soda, Powells adds. It retails for $1.89.
Powells says he is “in negotiations” to get the beverage stocked in supermarket chains across the country and that his stores have “been selling quite a bit” of the drink.
The soda comes in a brown-tinted glass bottle and features an image of Wapner assertively jabbing a finger outward and issuing the statement: “I Sentence You To Drink My Root Beer.”
The catch-phrase, Powells says, is meant to be “tongue-in-cheek,” to reflect Wapner’s personality. Powells jokes that Wapner will “hopefully re-sentence them too.”
But Wapner says his sentencing discretion will “depend on the public, whether they like it or not…I hope it’s a success, who knows?”
The public eagerly embraced Wapner while he presided over a pretend courtroom on “People’s Court” from 1981 until 1993, adjudicating actual disputes in the form of binding arbitration. The show’s 12 seasons were comprised of a total of 2,340 half-hour segments.
A 1989 poll conducted for the Washington Post showed that only 9 percent of the members of the public could name the chief justice of the United States, but 54 percent knew that Wapner was the judge on “People’s Court.”
Wapner began his judicial career with an appointment to the Los Angeles Municipal Court bench in 1959 by then-Gov. Pat Brown, who elevated him to the Superior Court two years later.
His Superior Court colleagues elected him presiding judge for 1969 and 1970. Judges statewide chose him as the head of the California Judges Association for 1975-76. He retired in 1979.
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company