03/07/1994 at 01:00 AM EST
The stakes were small—one victorious plaintiff was awarded 51 cents from a neighbor who had swallowed his goldfish—but the battles were hard-fought. And over all the backyard squabbles that escalated into small-claims litigation, retired judge Joseph A. Wapner presided with the dignity of his 18 years on the L.A. superior court bench. Wapner, now 74 and really retired, remembers The People's Court, which aired from 1981 to 1993, with dyspeptic fondness. "They always used to say, 'We're suing because of the principle of the thing,' " he says, "and I'd say, 'Yeah, but the only thing I can give you is money.' "