t Harry’s 1979 Senate confirmation hearing, Senator Alan Simpson, a Wyoming Republican, asked, “If a decision in a particular case was required by case law or statute, but offended your conscience, what might you do in that situation?” Judge Pregerson replied, unflinchingly, “I would try to find a way to follow my conscience and do what I perceived to be right and just. My conscience,” he added, “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.”
Framed by the packed Shrine Auditorium celebration of Harry’s life, and interwoven with rare family photos, remembrances of people whose lives he touched and changed, 9th Circuit Court of Appeals cameos, television news reports, World War II Marine Corps battle footage and spectacular aerial views of Los Angeles, the city he knew and loved, 9th CIRCUIT COWBOY explores Harry’s inexhaustible passion – both on and off the bench – as a “rescue machine” to alleviate human suffering and fight for social justice.
A few nights before he died, Harry Pregerson expressed a single regret. He said:
“The hard thing is that I don’t have strength any more to help anyone.”
Through the words and memories of Harry’s family, friends, former interns, fellow judges, felony defendants and civil litigants, whose cases came before him, 9th CIRCUIT COWBOY is a moving portrait of Harry and a meditation on the purpose of life, the mystery of goodness and an inspiring and urgent story for our time.
The film plunges us into the major challenges of his life, the courageous positions he took and the devastating secret he kept hidden from almost everyone:
• The great injustice Harry suffered early in life which haunted him and shaped his passionate advocacy for the underdog.
• His meeting with the love of his life, the beautiful and brilliant Bernadette Chapkis, to whom he was married for 71 years.
•His early struggles to make a living as a lawyer -- taking any case that came through the door and finding a way for “the little guy” to be represented.
• Harry’s formidable impact through decisions and consent decrees, and how he used the bench as a bully pulpit for social justice.
• How Harry, with his skill in bringing people together, was able to defy judicial precedent and halt construction of an interstate expressway, the Century Freeway, for seven years, because it would disproportionately
uproot poor people, and how he demanded and succeeded in having the entire project reconceived to mitigate its impact on neighborhood residents
and provide housing and job training.
• Harry’s decisions in connection with the Hyperion Sewage Treatment Plant which were transformative for the City of Los Angeles and the Santa Monica Bay, revitalizing marine life in the Bay and winning major environmental awards -- decisions for which he was affectionately dubbed, “the Sludge Judge.”
• How conservatives railed at him for overturning death sentences and accused him of activism. But Harry said he simply believed many death row inmates had not been given fair trials.
• Harry’s tireless work every day to establish homeless shelters for veterans and non-veterans and getting major donors and city governments involved.