Summer 2015 • Issue 55, page 1

An Interview: Judge Dean Pregerson

By Moldo, Byron*

I recently sat down with Judge Dean Pregerson in his chambers of the United States District Court and had a conversation with him about his professional career, both as a lawyer and a judge. In particular, I was interested to learn about his experiences with receivers, administration of receivership estates, and related issues. As we spoke, I became more familiar with his methods of interacting with receivers that he has appointed, as well as the manner in which he prefers to oversee the administration of receivership estates.

The Honorable Dean D. Pregerson, United States District Judge, presides over Courtroom 3 of the United States District Court, Central District of California, in Los Angeles, California. His courtroom is a model of judicial efficiency due to the assistance of his courtroom deputy, secretary, and law clerks. Judge Pregerson graduated from UCLA with a B.A. in History and received his law degree from UC Davis. He has been a member of the federal bench in Los Angeles since 1996.

Judge Pregerson is the son of Harry Pregerson, who has been a member of the United States Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit since 1979. Law has always played a significant part of life for Judge Pregerson, who was constantly surrounded by legal books, journals, digests, and other papers. As he grew up in Los Angeles, Judge Pregerson remembers his father constantly reading all of the legal materials in their house. Due to his house being filled with law books and other papers, Judge Pregerson always assumed that, like his father, he would attend law school. In fact, their house was so filled with law books that were stacked everywhere, Judge Pregerson feared that if a large earthquake occurred, he would be buried under many volumes of F. Supp. Thus, after obtaining his undergraduate degree at UCLA, it came as no surprise when Judge Pregerson applied for admission to law school.

Prior to becoming a judge, Judge Pregerson was a partner in several law firms where his civil practice including commercial, real estate, intellectual property, and consumer fraud matters. He also worked as a parole hearing officer, legal aid lawyer, and assistant public defender. Judge Pregerson was named one of “California’s Top 100 Leading Lawyers” by the Los Angeles Daily Journal, and has also been named as one of the top 500 judges in America.

Judge Pregerson is an active member of the Los Angeles nonprofit community. For many years, he served as a board member of Bet Tzedek Legal Services. In addition, for over two decades Judge Pregerson has been an advisor to the Board of the GSA/Salvation Army Bell Homeless Shelter, which provides short term and transitional housing, comprehensive mental health services, and vocational training programs to men and women. Judge Pregerson also serves on the Salvation Army’s Los Angeles Metropolitan Board, and was recognized for his leadership role in creating Operation Angel Island, which provided housing and vocational opportunities on the Bell Shelter campus for displaced victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Judge Pregerson was appointed as a United States District Judge by President Bill Clinton in 1996. During the time that he has served, Judge Pregerson has appointed receivers in a variety of matters. Some of the cases where receivers have been appointed were filed by governmental agencies such as the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Trade Commission. Receivers have also been appointed in other cases filed by financial institutions where fraud allegations existed. One topic of our discussion included Judge Pregerson’s perspective regarding the appointment of a person as a receiver if the court is not familiar with the candidate. In his view, he would look for guidance and information from the party seeking the receiver’s appointment, especially since he believes it is the court’s responsibility to look to the receiver to manage the estate, including its operations, retention of professionals, and costs. Judge Pregerson, in particular, commented that one of the primary roles for the receiver is to ensure that the professionals working on the matter are properly supervised and that costs are appropriately managed. For instance, Judge Pregerson’s standard practice in reviewing fee applications is to examine the number of individuals in a firm that worked on the matter. The use by either a law or accounting firm of too many individuals is a red flag that indicates ineffective oversight and management by the receiver.

I also asked for Judge Pregerson’s view on the treatment or use of evidence by receivers. Specifically, I inquired how he would generally react to a receiver’s introduction into evidence of books and records that were created prior to the receiver’s appointment. Judge Pregerson stated his general opinion that the introduction of those documents should not be problematic, as there is no question that a receiver is the custodian of the books and records in his possession following his appointment. He noted that the introduction of evidence by a receiver must be balanced with the overriding purpose of a receivership, which is to attempt to return as much money as possible to defrauded investors, consumers or creditors.

Another subject that I discussed with Judge Pregerson was litigation involving receivers. Specifically, I inquired if he had ever faced a situation where a receiver he had appointed had been sued. Judge Pregerson could not recall that any of the receivers that he had appointed were sued.

One other topic we discussed was the manner in which Judge Pregerson communicates with his receivers. I stated to Judge Pregerson that I was aware that some judges interact directly with their receiver, in addition to communicating in open court. He expressed his opinion that, as a general rule, being open and transparent with the receiver, all parties, counsel, and interested parties was the prudent manner to administer a receivership. Judge Pregerson also stated that he did not confer with his colleagues concerning receivership administration. He believes that engaging a receiver or its counsel in open court, when other counsel and investors were present is, the appropriate manner in which to communicate with its receiver. Judge Pregerson did state, however, that if sensitive matters arose, it would be appropriate for a receiver to contact the court directly. On the topic of communication, he emphasized his expectation that a receiver and its counsel spend the necessary amount of time in communicating with investors, consumers, and creditors to explain the overall receivership process, to attempt to manage expectations of everyone, and to provide information, since, in many cases, individuals have lost their life savings.

Judge Pregerson went out of his way to tell me about some practice points. He specifically stated that he truly appreciated the ability of opposing counsel to get along and to work within the confines of the Court rules. And, above all other issues, honesty is the most important factor for lawyers to consider. Judge Pregerson stated his appreciation when lawyers advocated, both orally and in writing, with total honesty. He said, “It is very easy to recognize when a lawyer is not being honest or truthful.”

I could have spent many hours conversing with Judge Pregerson as he was totally approachable, candid, engaging, and willing to share his views and opinions concerning receiverships. I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to speak directly with him; it was truly an honor.

I have had the opportunity to serve as counsel for a receiver in an equity receivership that was overseen by Judge Pregerson. The experience was, in my opinion, memorable due in large part to the Judge’s general approach to receivership administration. I hope that others will have a similar opportunity in the future. I am confident that you will have a similar encounter.

*Byron Z. Moldo is a partner with the law firm of Ervin Cohen & Jessup LLP, located in Beverly Hills, California. He serves as a receiver in state and federal courts, and as counsel for receivers in both state and federal court.