Harry Pregerson passed away on Saturday, and if you haven’t heard of him, he’s worth learning about and remembering. If you’re like me, you never met him, but you knew who he was because you practiced law in Los Angeles (or California, for that matter, and a lot of other states, too). And if you’re like me, you’ll miss him because you think the world needs more people like him, and you wonder if we’ve got it in us.
The short version is that he was a state and federal judge in L.A. for over fifty years, but that doesn’t begin to cover it. He was born and raised in L.A. and was a member of the Greatest Generation if there ever was one. He was student-body president in high school and college, but he left college early to join the Marines during World War II. He could’ve stayed in school, I imagine, but lucky him, he enlisted in time for the Battle of Okinawa, where he was severely wounded in both legs. He then finished college, studied law, and by all accounts, spent the rest of his life trying to help as many people as he could. His daughter nicknamed him “the rescue machine” when she was a teenager.
Ask those who knew him, and they’ll tell you he saw the law for what it meant to people’s flesh-and-blood lives, not as a set of abstract ideas. He saw it as a means to achieve justice, and he took on the problems of others as if they were his own. No matter who they were.
Asked what he would do if the law ever violated his conscience, he famously told the United States Senate, “My conscience is a product of the Ten Commandments, the Bill of Rights, the Boy Scout Oath, and the Marine Corps Hymn. If I had to follow my conscience or the law, I would follow my conscience.”
And that was at a hearing to decide if he would be confirmed as a judge. Needless to say, he was confirmed.
Judge Pregerson is survived by his wife, children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. You can read tributes and obituaries everywhere from the L.A. Times to the New York Times to the Great Falls Tribune in Montana.
A memorial service will be held Friday at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles.
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