Sunday, February 22, 2009

My Movitation - Judge Jim Gray's response to a letter

Dear Mark,

Thank you for the note. I worked hard on the book with the hope that it would increase a full, open and honest discussion of this critical area. 

When I became a trial court judge at the end of 1983, I had no particular thoughts about drug laws one way or the other, except to enforce them. That is what I had done as a Navy JAG attorney, and that is what I did as a federal prosecutor in Los Angeles.

Then the thing that struck me first in this area when I was on the bench was that alcohol-related offenses were the largest problem area that we faced, and we were doing almost nothing about it. So I helped to establish what was probably the first Drug Court in the country. We screened every drinking driver that came into our 
courts to determine who were the alcoholics (We called them "High Risk Problem Drinkers," but they knew what we meant.), and then placed them onto a program 
that required total abstinance from alcohol. We were successful in keeping 65 % of these people off alcohol for 8 months, which was as long as I was able to keep 
statistics. We also received letters from, for example, wives that told us they were going to divorce their husbands because of their drinking. But now that they were
on our program, thank you, because you have given me my husband back. We didn't need to receive too many of these letters to know that we were on to something 

So with this experience, it did not take me long to realize that we were facing similar problems with the other mind-altering, sometimes addicting drugs. And that jail and prison was not the answer. What worked was four things: education, prevention and treatment, positive economic incentives to do what was socially acceptable, and individual responsibility for one's actions. But trying to control what people put into their bodies was not working. And along the way, the drug money problems were dwarfing the actual drug problems. 

So, being a fairly clean-cut, conservative judge in a conservative county who had never used any form of illicit drug, I decided that few people could cause others to listen to the message more than I could. (It certainly was not a "career-enhancing" thing to do.) So in April of 2001, I actually held a press conference, and I spoke out about my conclusions as publicly as I could. And I continue to do so today.

So please use whatever your personal experiences and observations are, and help us to discuss this critically important issue. The beheadings in Mexico have almost nothing to do with drugs: they are all about drug money. And so are a large number of other problems with violence, corruption, disregard for the law, supporting terrorism, and directly leading our children into a lifestyle of drug usage and drug selling. Drug money is the major problem, and still we refuse even to discuss the issue.

And I would be interested in your thoughts, both in general, and about my book.

Thank you again for the note, and Good Luck to us all.

Judge Jim Gray

Exploring new worlds: cooking - By Judge Jim Gray

This past Valentine’s Day I decided to offer to do what I had not done for about 30 years — cook a nice meal for my wife. The idea was well received. So I went to some of the finer markets around and purchased some sea scallops, and fresh vegetables, and lemons, garlic and flat parsley for a nice sauce. I also pulled out a nice “saved” bottle of wine, and then, with my wife’s patient guidance, prepared our dinner.

The whole evening was a success. And, enlightened by that experience, I realized that cooking fits all the criteria that we have been discussing about exploring new worlds, because it is a unique experience, and a complete world unto itself.

The first lesson in my life on the subject was taught to me by my father. He used to say that the most important ingredient in the make-up of a good cook was to have an appreciative audience. I cannot think of any people who are good cooks that only cook for themselves, and I’ll bet that you can’t either. So if you want to experience good cooking you should be genuinely appreciative of the cook.

Cooking is really divided into two categories: commercial and domestic. Commercial covers people being paid to cook for others, and includes those who work in restaurants and catering services, and are hired to cook in other people’s homes. In that regard, there is a real difference between being a cook and being a chef.

A cook is basically a technician, while a chef is more of an artist. And at its most aesthetic, cooking is an art that stimulates a sensual experience involving taste, smell, sight and mouth feel. Therefore, by combining skill, experience, imagination and a caring of choosing fresh ingredients and different cooking techniques, being a chef can be a highly creative process.

Nevertheless, there can be problems in commercial cooking, because often it is the desire of many chefs only to have a good presentation and taste in the final product. But too often that can omit a concern about nutrition, additives like MSG and other flavor enhancers, and the amount of butter, cream and fats in the meals. So for the most part, health-conscious people should either limit their exposure to this type of meal or be really selective.

The benefits of domestic good cooking are enormous. Of course, everyone likes to eat, and cooking with fresh ingredients tastes better (once you allow your taste buds to recover from an excess of salt and other flavor enhancers), and it is certainly healthier. Buying local also means that the foods will likely be fresher, greener and exposed to fewer pollutants from transportation.

My wonderful mother was a great cook. Not gourmet, but she used fresh ingredients, and always added her special touches and garnishes that eternally demonstrated her love and caring for us. In addition, we would always sit down together for breakfast and dinner, and have formal candlelight dinners in the dining room on Sundays. After dinner, we would often wash the dishes together (this was before dishwashers), and frequently would sing together while we worked. This furnished us with great togetherness, great bonding, and great memories!

Probably each of us has special recollections of favorite recipes that we associate with particular holidays and other good times. And all of these times were directly made possible by the efforts of the cooks. In addition, communal efforts, such as picnics and potluck dinners where everyone has a stake (steak?) in the success of the event, materially add to the happy socializing both during the preparation and the consumption of the food. And it is not an accident that many good things in life are centered on a good meal.

Each summer my family picked fresh peaches from our tree, and then worked together to make hand-churned peach ice cream. In my mind, this is the best ice cream I will ever have because of the wonderful memories. Other families make preserves, tamales, canned fruit and many other foods together, with the same resulting memories. And all are made possible by the caring cook.

Other additional benefits are that food cooked at home is almost always less expensive than the ready-to-eat products. And, with an appreciative audience, it is much more fulfilling for the preparers. In fact, it also gives a new spouse something extra to brag about to both parents and in-laws. (And caring family members always overlook the times the new bride roasts the neck and giblets in the oven alongside the chicken while still in the plastic bag.)

A friend of mine who is a gourmet cook has told me about his procedure in food preparation. He first finds a new recipe, either in a cookbook or, increasingly, on the Internet. Then he sits down and visualizes from start to finish how he will do the job, including which pans to use, which oil, which ingredients and from where, etc. Then he will get everything out, and do all measurements as appropriate before he even starts to cook. Finally, as he progresses he will wash all of his cooking implements immediately after he has finished with them. This means that when his gourmet meal is completed, he and his wife are only facing a wonderful meal, and not a messy kitchen.

This procedure sounds good to me, and I recommend it to you.

Some recent and positive developments in cooking are that general education about nutrition is increasing in our society, as represented by the Food Network on television and the increased availability of cooking classes, with the result that things such as sodas, potato chips and doughnuts are more often being replaced by vitamin waters, fresh fruits and granola bars; aluminum pans, which often leach out harmful metals into our foods, are increasingly being replaced by ceramic and iron ones, which do not; more farmers’ markets and other stores featuring fresh fruits and vegetables are being found everywhere; and becoming a chef is increasingly being considered to be an honorable profession.

JAMES P. GRAY is a retired judge of the Orange County Superior Court, the author of Wearing the Robe – the Art and Responsibilities of Judging in Today’s Courts (Square One Press, 2008), and can be contacted at or via his website at

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Different worlds: scuba diving - by Judge Jim Gray

If you want to visit a truly different, fascinating, varied and colorful world, try scuba diving. Yes, it can be dangerous, so you should not venture below the surface with a tank of air unless you get certified. But once this is done, you will be entering a wonderful if not magical new world.

Scuba stands for self-contained underwater breathing apparatus, and consists of a tank of compressed air, which is strapped to your back, air hoses and a regulator for breathing. The original “aqua lung” scuba gear was co-discovered by Jacques Cousteau in 1943, and he went on to study all forms of life in the water and to become a pioneer in marine conservation and photography.

My first duty station when I was in the Navy was the U.S. Naval Air Station in Guam, and it was there that I became certified in scuba diving. In fact, I quickly formed the belief that the best part of Guam was under water. We could dive — always with a partner — on coral reefs, and a World War I freighter that sank in the harbor. And, because most of the “action” occurs at night, we also took underwater flashlights and made some night dives.

At that time, I hunted for shells and retrieved coral from the reefs that I still display on my shelves at home. I wouldn’t do that anymore because of the increased fragility of the reefs. At that time I knew some divers who would actually take a crow bar to large coral heads and pry them up while looking for shells, because the critters housed in the shells tended to hide under the coral. But it was tremendously destructive of the coral reefs, and in most places that practice has long since been prohibited.

I was also able to dive in the best spot in the world for scuba, which is the Truk (or Chuuk) Lagoon, in the Caroline Islands. This 50-by-30-mile lagoon surrounded by coral reefs was the base of naval operations for the Japanese in the South Pacific during World War II. But in 1944 the Allies attacked and sank about 12 Japanese warships, 32 merchant ships, and hundreds of aircraft, and people can now dive on them. And since the government has prohibited the removal of anything from the area, the ships and airplanes are mostly still the way they were back then. It is a fascinating thing to do!

We dove down to the Fujikawa Maru, which is a six-hold armed freighter. Still found in one of the holds was an actual Zero, which is a Japanese fighter airplane that was being transported intact. So we were actually able to sit in the cockpit of this plane, and that was an experience I will never forget. There also was lots of machinery in the hold of the ship, including an old outboard motor that I will always remember.

I also vividly remember diving in about 30 feet of water around the large guns on the bow of the same ship. But the guns had large coral heads growing on them, and several colorful fish were lazily swimming all around them. So to see this ship of war with all of its guns surrounded by such an idyllic and peaceful situation was something that will always be burned in my memory as the most ironic scene of my life.

After being discharged from the Navy I have only been diving one time in my life, and that was in Laguna Beach. Even though it was August, we still had to wear a wet suit because the water below about 10 feet was cold. And the water was not nearly as clear, or the fish as colorful, or the scenery as interesting as in the other areas I had been. We did explore the world of the kelp beds, and that was interesting. But not interesting enough to bring me back.

I do understand that the diving on the other side of Catalina Island is fun, and more colorful. In addition, divers can also go spear fishing or hunting for lobsters, so maybe some day.

Basically, the only dangerous things about scuba diving are getting panicked from lack of experience in unusual situations, or diving too deep for too long without taking proper steps for decompression. Both of these underscore the need to get certified, so that you can enjoy this wonderful activity safely.

But otherwise, experiencing the wonders of life beneath the seas is one of life’s most interesting adventures. So even if scuba diving itself is not in your future, please treat yourself by going to a warm-water climate, putting on a mask and snorkel, resting on the top of the water, and just quietly observing what is going on below. You will be able to see almost as much as a diver, because below 30 feet the sunlight begins to fade and so do the colors. Or at the very least go on one of the glass-bottomed boat excursions (and not just at Disneyland) and experience these wonders first hand. You will never be sorry.

Finally, if you want to learn more about underwater conservation, please visit the Nature Conservancy at, the Cousteau Society at, or other similar websites. We all need to do what we can to protect and preserve these amazing, fascinating and diverse underwater lands.

JAMES P. GRAY is a retired judge of the Orange County Superior Court, the author of Wearing the Robe – the Art and Responsibilities of Judging in Today’s Courts (Square One Press, 2008), and can be contacted at or via his website at

Monday, February 9, 2009

Different worlds: white water rafting - by Judge Jim Gray

My all-time favorite vacation activity is white water rafting. If you are not afraid of the water, or of getting wet, and you love the out-of-doors, you should try it!

White water rafting combines many good things, such as natural beauty, tranquillity, marvelous scenery, experiencing “the wild,” companionship, history — and moments of genuine excitement.

The rapids on rivers are generally classified in order of danger from 1 to 5, with Level 1 being the most tame. Level 6 and above are considered too dangerous to be navigated. Level 1 and below rapids are considered to be “float trips.” Level 2 and 3 rapids are relatively mild, but enough to give you some exhilaration. These trips are perfect for the novice, younger children and “people who don’t want to get their hair wet.” I have been on some of those as one- or two-day trips on the San Juan River near Durango, the Lower Kern River, which is below Lake Isabella and east of Bakersfield, the Snake River south of the Grand Tetons, and the American River right above Folsom Lake near Sacramento. They were all fun, but the best was the American River.

The most spectacular river-rafting trip I have taken was through the Grand Canyon on the Colorado River. This trip had lots of Level 4 and 5 rapids, and, not surprisingly, some of the most beautiful scenery imaginable. But in addition, you can take side trips to wonderful waterfalls, abandoned mines, hot springs, and other notable and interesting locations. And excitement? We were on a “J-Rig” inflatable boat, which the Army Seabees use as temporary bridges. They were equipped with 35-horsepower outboard motors and would handle about 18 to 20 people. But when we hit some of the rapids, it would really “get our attention,” to the extent that it would move the boat almost 45 degrees in the air. In short, we had a great time.

Other longer trips I have taken that I would strongly recommend to you are the Middle Fork and the Main Fork of the Salmon River in Idaho, the Selway River in Idaho, and the Upper Kern River, which is above Lake Isabella. I have also heard that there are great trips on the Rogue River in Oregon and the Green River in Utah, and of course there are many others as well.

But the fun is not just on the river. Every company I have traveled with has been people-oriented and has cooked wonderful meals. An added plus is that you will have time to yourself in camp to fish, take a nap, go hiking in wildlife areas, or just joke and converse with good people.

The boats you will take will vary. By far the largest I have seen are the J-Rigs on the Colorado. Otherwise you will usually choose either to be on an oar boat, where one guide sits in the middle and does all the work with two long oars, or a paddle boat, which is usually smaller and each of the six to eight passengers and the one guide in the back must paddle. I much prefer to be paddling, since it allows me to be much more a part of the river and the trip. Of course, some people take their own individual kayaks, but they should either stay in milder water or be quite a bit more experienced.

In most of the trips you will sleep on the ground, either in a tent or out in the open. You will have a pad beneath you, and if you have a sandy beach, it can be soft. Or you can take a fold-up cot with you to get off the ground. That is what I do because at this point in my life I don’t feel I should have to continue to prove my masculinity by sleeping on the ground. But don’t let that deter you.

I will end this column with a story that was passed along to me by the owner of the rafting company that took us through the Main Fork of the Salmon River. On the last evening of our trip while by the camp fire, we asked the owner who his all-time favorite customer had been on the river. He said that this was an easy question to answer.

Once he received a letter from a woman from back East who told him that she was then 85 years old, but had always wanted to go river rafting, and she asked if she could be included. He responded that if she would provide a letter from her doctor that it was all right, he would take her along. Almost by return mail he received another note from the woman telling him for the first time that she was also blind, but enclosing the appropriate doctor’s note. In addition, she said that she had an 81-year-old friend with her own doctor’s approval that wanted to come along as well.

So they both came on the trip. As you can imagine, everyone rallied to help her on the boat and in camp, and to explain what was happening. In short, this nice woman and everyone else had a great time. But finally the owner asked her why if she had always wanted to go river rafting she had waited until she was 85. She responded that for the last 40 years her husband and all of her children had been against the idea. But they were all dead now, so she decided to give it a try. For many people like me and maybe like you, river rafting is a different world, and one of life’s most fun things to do. So try it this summer. Don’t wait until you are 85 and blind.

JAMES P. GRAY is a retired judge of the Superior Court in Orange County, the composer of the high school musical “Americans All,” that will soon be playing in Hawkinsville, Georgia and Greenville, South Carolina, and can be contacted at or through his website at

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Discovering new worlds: fly fishing - by Judge Jim Gray

If you stop and think about it, there are many separate and complete worlds all around us that are just waiting to be discovered.

So in the next few weeks I will share with you some of the worlds that I have discovered, with the hope that you will be sufficiently interested to discover them for yourself. And I also request that you share some of the worlds you have discovered with the rest of us as well.

Some of my discovered worlds are fly fishing, scuba diving, different forms of music, traveling, white-water rafting, and reading. In the weeks to come, we will be discussing each of those worlds and maybe more. But first on the list is fly fishing.

I consider myself to be an “advanced novice” fly fisherman. Before I got into it, I considered this to be an “elitist” activity that was more trouble than it was worth. But after learning a little bit about it and taking a few fly fishing trips, now I consider it to be one of the most enjoyable and satisfying pastimes I have ever encountered.

The purpose of fly fishing is, of course, to fool the fish into thinking that your offering with a hook hidden in it is their lunch. “Dry” flies are imitations of insects that are found around a body of water searching for food, sometimes crawling on the water or dipping or falling into it. “Wet” flies usually imitate water-born insects as they swim to the surface to emerge as adults before they fly away.

But fish are not dumb. They can see your offering and often detect if it has any flaws. They can also see and hear you and, depending upon the water conditions, they can see your line as well. So you must sneak up on the fish, make your lure look realistic, and make your line inconspicuous.

In addition, fish are generally lazy. They want to gather as much food as they can without expending too much energy along the way. Face the facts, there are not too many calories to be found for a fish in eating a mayfly or caddisfly. So if your fly is too far away, or the fish have to swim too far against the current to get to it, the strike probably will not be made.

So there is a real challenge to fly fishing — and that is just to get the original strike. You will probably be fishing with a barbless hook, so you will be forced to keep some tension on the line or the fish will easily throw the hook. Barbless hooks are used because most good fly fishing is “catch and release,” due to the conviction that “fish are too valuable just to be caught once.” In addition, you will also probably be fishing with low test line, so if you put too much pressure upon it, the line or leader (the tippet) will break.

Furthermore there is a real technique to casting, controlling and positioning your fly. Everything you use is lightweight, so you cannot “force” the fly into the right spot. Instead you must work up to it by a series of practice or “false” casts. But as we have seen, placement is critical. For example, in a river the fish will often be found behind some rocks that will give them relief from the current, but still keep them close enough to the current to see and strike at food as the current washes it by. So the people fishing want to drift their flies in the current, but close to the slower water where the fish are. Similarly, fish will hide under trees or fallen branches to be in cooler water. But it can be hard to cast your lightweight fly into such places. In fact, there have been many times in which I have “caught” more trees on my fishing expeditions than fish.

But in addition to the challenges and excitement, there is also a genuine peace to be found in fly fishing. By definition, when I am standing by or in a river in Colorado, Idaho, the Eastern Sierras, or almost any other venue, I am in a wonderful place.

Furthermore, when I fish I am quiet and left alone with my thoughts, and often at these times I have felt more in harmony and at one with my surroundings than I have ever felt anywhere else. Just the give and take with the river, the trees, the rocks and, yes, the fish can bring a tranquillity that is unmatched.

If you are interested in expanding your horizons to include fly fishing, there are numbers of instructors available almost anywhere, and there are also lots of books to assist you as well. The book I used was “Essential Fly Fishing” by Tom Meade, but there are many others.

In addition, do yourself a favor and read “The River Why,” which is a novel by David James Duncan. This is actually one of the funniest books I have ever read, and it will also give you a good understanding and appreciation of fly fishing.

So I hope you open your thoughts to fly fishing, and I invite you to share your experiences with the rest of us. It really is a separate world that is different, exciting, challenging, tranquil and satisfying. And it is one that I am deeply blessed and grateful to have encountered.

JAMES P. GRAY is a retired judge of the Orange County Superior Court, the author of Wearing the Robe – the Art and Responsibilities of Judging in Today’s Courts (Square One Press, 2008), and can be contacted at or via his website at