Harry: The Person

 “If [Judge Pregerson] heard that someone—anyone—needed help, he was on it. How many of us were called by the judge to help someone he had befriended? He collected more than fifty awards for his community work, which would be a full-time job for anyone else. For HP, it was just his second shift.”


Housing the Homeless

Judge Pregerson was profoundly upset by the number of people living on the streets in Los Angeles, many of them veterans. When he saw people sleeping on the steps of the federal courthouse, he ordered the doors be opened so they could sleep inside, declaring that it was the people’s building after all. This caused some consternation among his colleagues. Pregerson realized an alternative was needed, so when he found out a local Salvation Army shelter was going to close down for lack of funds, he immediately set to work making calls which then resulted in the building becoming the Bell Shelter. He also led initiatives specifically intended to help homeless veterans.


Professor Christopher Cameron, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Professor of Law, Southwestern Law School; Law Clerk to United States Circuit Judge Harry Pregerson, 1983-84, remembers Judge Pregerson as “a singular American jurist whose community impact on the bench was equaled or exceeded by his impact off the bench.”

Judge Pregerson’s impact on Los Angeles was so great that Professor Cameron called him “the real mayor of Los Angeles” in a 2007 article for the Southwestern Law Review.

Read Prof. Cameron’s article


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“About twenty-five years ago, I was sitting next to Harry at a Yom Kippur service. It was cold outside, and there was a homelessness crisis in L.A. Harry said to me, “Read this.” He pointed to Leviticus 23:22.

‘And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of thy field, nor shall you gather any gleaning from your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and for the stranger.’

The next day, he got up, rolled up his sleeves, and went to work for the homeless and our vets.”

— JUDGE DEAN PREGERSON, Harry’s son, speaking at his father’s memorial

Pregerson’s daughter, Dr. Katie Rodan, a successful dermatologist, said about her father: “I think he decided early on that he wouldn’t raise me any differently from how he was raising his son, Dean. He made sure I felt like a girl who could do anything, someone who was tough and had the fortitude to take care of herself and weather any storm.”

“Harry’s message to me about strength and independence was a powerful and rare one for a girl of thirteen in the 1960s to hear.”

— DR. KATIE RODAN, Harry’s daughter, speaking at her father’s memorial

“[Judge Pregerson] would be seated at a table, and inevitably a stranger would approach him and introduce themselves. Grandpa would slowly extend his hand. They would shake, and suddenly the stranger was confronted with a kung-fu grip that he could not escape. The crippling grip continued as pleasantries were exchanged while the stranger pretended everything was normal. The handshake would continue such an unusually long period of time, that the stranger would finally begin to smile or laugh—I’m sure thinking, ‘This crazy old judge is squeezing the crap out of my hand and won’t let go.'”

“Soon, contact information was requested, and then exchanged, and the stranger had unwittingly ‘enlisted’ as a member of Grandpa’s army . . . [T]his stranger would soon receive a late-night phone call. Perhaps on a Sunday night, and right when a favorite show came on or dinner was ready, the phone would ring . . . Grandpa would say, ‘I need your help on something’ . . . The stranger now had marching orders, was suddenly and permanently swept up into the good fight.”

–BRADLEY PREGERSON, speaking at his grandfather’s 2017 memorial

“Fun is bullshit.”

Many people remember this as one of Judge Pregerson’s signature sayings. What he really meant was that the good in life doesn’t come from fun or shallow pleasures — true joy comes from helping others.


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“As a country we have a great future . . . we need to come together, we need to embrace each other as brothers and sisters . . . the wealth of our country is in the minds of our people.”

Before he died, Harry expressed only one regret:  “The hard thing is that I don’t have strength anymore to help people.”