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Before the Oath, Some Words of Concern for 'the Dispossessed'

Judge Harry Pregerson swears in a longtime friend with a reminder of their shared tradition of liberal politics.


It was no surprise to those who know Judge Harry Pregerson to hear him reel off his concerns for Los Angeles as he prepared Monday to swear in James K. Hahn as mayor: affordable housing for working families, child care, job training, "the plight of the homeless and the dispossessed."

In his 36 years as a judge in Los Angeles, Pregerson has fought hard to address such concerns. And at Hahn's inauguration, the 77-year-old judge told the city that the new mayor--a longtime family friend--shared the same concerns.

"We rejoice in the diversity of this great city, where we were both born," Pregerson said before administering the oath of office. "We understand that it is that diversity which has made this city great, and all of us must continue together to promote the common good."

Pregerson, a judge on the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, offered a reminder that Hahn comes from a tradition of liberal politics.

All judges, Pregerson once said, should be social workers. For Pregerson, who has overseen development of four homeless shelters on his own time, the best illustration of his philosophy was the Century Freeway case.

As a U.S. district judge in 1972, he blocked construction of the freeway from Norwalk to Los Angeles International Airport. He allowed the project to move forward in 1979, but only after helping craft an agreement that set aside highway money for programs to build affordable housing. More than 4,000 units of housing were built to accommodate those displaced by the freeway.

"Those who might be left behind are the ones he's most concerned about," said Allan Kingston, president and chief executive of Century Housing, which continues to oversee housing programs that grew out of the freeway project.

Felicia Marcus, one of Pregerson's former law clerks, summed up the judge's view on public policy: "It's about people, stupid."

"He's one of those guys who shows it's important to be smart, but it's also important to have a heart," she said. "As a judge and as a person, he has an amazing ability to hear most loudly those that other people can't hear, whether it's the homeless, or an immigrant seeking asylum, or a Holocaust victim trying to get her reparations."

Pregerson, who grew up in East Los Angeles and lives in Woodland Hills, was named a District Court judge by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1967. He had been appointed to the Municipal Court in 1965. President Jimmy Carter appointed him to the state Court of Appeal in 1979.

Hahn spokeswoman Julie Wong said Pregerson's views were not central to the mayor's decision to ask him to administer the oath of office.

"He's a friend of the mayor," she said. "That's the main reason he was selected."

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