Sunday, December 27, 2009

Living each day as your masterpiece - by Judge Jim Gray

While driving around Newport Beach recently I noticed an automobile that had the word “FLUENT” on its license plate. The more I reflected upon it, the more I thought that this was neat. In fact, I wish I had been able to talk to the owner to ask what the word meant to him or her.

A dictionary would say the word means to flow or to be spoken or written with ease. But to me the word “fluent” means more than that. To me, it means you are living your life at peace with yourself, in a meaningful and gratifying way. Maybe that is not what the owner means, and maybe it would be best that I never find out. Nevertheless, that is what the word means to me.

All of this started me thinking about a quote I saw from two extremely well-known sports figures in one of last week’s newspapers.

The first quote was from Tiger Woods, who announced that he was taking a leave of absence from his sport of golf because “I need to focus my attention on being a better husband, father and person.”

The second was from Johnny Wooden, the famous and highly respected UCLA basketball coach who will be 100 years old on his next birthday, and who said: “Make each day your Masterpiece.”

No one needs any more comments from or about Woods and his sexual escapades. I acknowledge that the pressure upon famous men who are deeply in the public eye must be appreciable when attractive women throw themselves at them sexually. But if people are married, they have made the choice that they will be faithful to their spouse. So this whole subject simply reduces itself to a matter of integrity.

Wooden also was faced with that choice, and he was completely faithful to his wife and best friend for their more than 50 years of marriage before his wife, Nell, passed away. And now he says he can barely wait to rejoin her. So think of what Tiger Woods has been missing!

When asked about who the heroes of my life are, I used to say that I had three: my wonderful father, Gary Bellows, who was a professor I had at the USC Law School, and President John F. Kennedy.

But when I found out about Kennedy’s private life, I removed him from my list. Many celebrities have shown their integrity by resisting the temptation to give in to these sexual advances, including, to my knowledge, Jimmy Stewart and Alan Alda.

Similar to Woods, Kennedy was involved with serial sexual affairs, which is quite a bit worse than what other famous people like Franklin D. Roosevelt, Martin Luther King Jr., and even Guinevere and Lancelot in “Camelot” were involved in. So Kennedy may have done some good things and been a symbol for some other ones, but, in my view, he was a person without integrity.

Therefore, he can no longer be a hero or role model.

That also reminds me of a story I heard about a man named Amazing Johnson. This fellow had lived a long life, but when he saw that his time to leave the Earth was approaching, he told one of his friends that he did not want his name to be placed upon his gravestone because he had been teased enough already.

Instead, he said that he wanted his marker to say: “Here lies a man who was faithful to his wife throughout all of their 57 years of marriage.” When asked why he wanted his gravestone to say that, he responded: “Well, people will walk by, and when they read that comment they will say, ‘My goodness, that’s Amazing!”

Well, it shouldn’t be so amazing. Time is racing onward. In fact, just as I am now finally ready to face the “Y2K Problem,” we are almost into the year 2010.

So we should use this time remaining to us to reflect upon what is important in our lives, and what is not.

Integrity? Certainly. But Wooden gave us some additional assistance that will help us in our reflections about the direction of our lives when he said, “Success is peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.”

So maybe you will want to join me this New Year’s Eve in reflection, when I ask myself whether I have been a man of integrity, and whether I am achieving success with the short time I have left upon this Earth. In other words, am I fluent? Am I really living my Masterpiece? And do I actually want to lead my life that way? In fact, do you?

If you do, then my New Year’s wish is that your life in the days and years to come may be fluent. Happy New Year!

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, December 20, 2009

Obamas were mindful of the Constitution - by Judge Jim Gray

For one reason or another, I receive large numbers of e-mails from lots of different sources. One I received recently was from the blog of a man named Stephen Frank, who promotes himself as providing a “frank” discussion for conservatives. This particular edition was sent out under the heading “Barack and Michelle Obama Ignore Christmas.”

The thrust of Frank’s message was that the Obamas’ holiday card, which was paid for by the Democratic National Committee, makes no religious reference whatsoever. What it did say was “May your family have a joyous holiday season, and a new year blessed with hope and happiness.”

Then Frank went on to say that about 58% of Democrats, 70% of independents and 91% of Republicans prefer to be wished a “Merry Christmas” instead of being greeted with things like “Happy Holidays.”

So, from all of that, he infers that the Obamas are ignoring Christmas, and are out of the mainstream of a majority of Americans. I disagree with Frank’s criticism.

Preliminarily, and so that there is no confusion, I was raised as a Christian in a Christian home. I have been a member of the Methodist Church all of my adult life, and I will compare my religious values to anyone’s. Furthermore, and as I have said before in this column, I did not vote for Obama. But having said all of this, I believe that the Obamas are taking the right approach in this matter for two important reasons.

First, Barack Obama is the president of the United States and everyone in it, and that fact must be present inextricably in everything he does. Therefore, publicly to wish all of his card’s recipients a Merry Christmas would be to show presidential favoritism toward Christians, as opposed to other people in our country who hold other religious beliefs. As such, Frank, that would be inappropriate.

To be consistent, but on a matter of insignificant importance, I do criticize the president for having publicly rooted for the Chicago White Sox when they played the Boston Red Sox in a major league baseball game last summer. I know that Obama resided in Chicago for a long time, but does that mean that people from Boston should be concerned that he will take sides against them in other things merely because of geography?

Traditionally presidents have upheld the philosophy of neutrality in the annual Army/Navy football game, by ceremoniously changing sides of the stadium during halftime. This shows symbolically that the president is the commander-in-chief of the Army and the Navy, and is therefore neutral in contests of one against the other. Obama should learn a lesson from that tradition.

The second reason is even more critical. And that is the fundamental importance of honoring the separation of church and state. Going back to the Thomas Jefferson, one of the main principles of our government has been to maintain this separation. This is also true for two important reasons.

In the first place, we want to protect government from the influence of the church. Many times throughout history when various religions have been involved in government, some truly terrible things have happened. Some examples of these are the Salem Witch Trials, as well as the Spanish Inquisition, and religious human sacrifices by the Aztecs, Incas and other societies around the world. Indeed, today we are seeing first-hand the tragic results that happen when religions have taken command of governments in the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, and also with the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Actually, on balance, probably the largest threat to peace in the world today comes from the merging of church and state in countries like that. And, although I am not saying that we would resort to things like human sacrifices, to some degree the same types of things could happen here in our country as well. How could this happen? To paraphrase Congressman Ron Paul, even if you agree with the ideas and dictates of our government, some day different people will be in charge and will use government for their own agendas. So the wisdom of the constitution is that it keeps government out of these issues altogether, regardless of who is in charge.

Of course, that is not at all to say that the values of religion should not have an influence in government. Our great country was founded in many ways upon Christian values, and the concept of us publicly being “One Nation Under God,” and having “In God We Trust” on our currency, etc., should be recognized and supported. Those mottoes display that we have important religious values.

But if the message on our currency instead were to be “In Jesus We Trust,” or “In The Buddha We Trust,” etc., this would and should be a constitutional violation, and must be avoided. Why? Because then our government would be favoring one religion over another. The Obamas’ holiday card implicitly recognizes that fact.

Yes, Christmas is a national holiday, and, yes, Jesus’ name is certainly an important part of the title of that meaningful day of celebration and reflection. But although the mottoes we use show that we are a country of Christian values, they do not mean that we are actually a Christian nation. That can be a subtle distinction, but it is enormously important. Otherwise we could not be a nation with religious freedom!

The second reason for the separation is that we want to protect religion from the influence of government. Several years ago, my wife and I took a wonderful trip to Turkey.

While we were there, we learned that the Turkish government actually pays the salaries of the Muslim imams. When we asked why this was done, we were told that this was the best way for the government to keep track of what these religious leaders were doing, and to “keep the lid on.”

Actually this is quite an effective tool that the Turkish government is using, but I hope you can see that it can be truly corruptive and controlling for the religions involved.

Why? Because whenever government becomes involved in anything, it almost unfailingly works to control it.

So the best way to protect the freedom of religion is to have the government scrupulously kept away.

Our country would face similar issues by allowing our government to funnel money to do charitable work through religious organizations.

This practice has been suggested both by President George W. Bush and by Obama. But this would be dangerous, because if we allow government to fund religions in any way, government will soon be in a position to control those religions.

Nevertheless, Frank, none of this means that you or I as private citizens cannot and should not wish other people a Merry Christmas. In fact, when I hear Christians wishing other Christians a “Happy Holidays,” I commonly respond that it is OK to wish people a Merry Christmas. And it is.

So may I take this opportunity to wish each of my fellow Christians a truly Merry Christmas.

And for those of you of different religious beliefs, I wish you a Merry Spirit of Christmas.

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, December 14, 2009

Giving our troops better treatment - by Judge Jim Gray

We are blessed in Orange County to have several wonderful and well-known institutions of higher learning. But one of them that is less known is increasingly achieving greatness in so many respects. And that is Chapman University!

Frankly, my first real contact with Chapman was negative, and it happened more than 20 years ago.

I was the judge presiding over a lawsuit brought by a former female physical education professor for wrongful termination, which resulted in both general and punitive damages being awarded by the jury against both Chapman and its then president.

In a motion for new trial, the attorney asked if I would allow Chapman’s new president, James Doti, to address the court, and, although this was a bit unusual, I agreed. What a man, and what a presentation! From this it was apparent to me that Chapman not only would develop into a university of high integrity but also one of accomplishment and prestige. And I was right.

Doti’s presentation did not have any effect upon that case, because we were bound by what had already happened, instead of promises about the future. But I knew then that under this incoming president’s tutelage, Chapman was going to become a gem.

And now it is. Not only is the undergraduate school becoming a nationwide leader in education, but the graduate schools of law, business, music, film and many more are leading the way in excellence.

In fact, Chapman law alumni passed the most recent California Bar Examination at an 81% rate, which puts them in the company of some of the state’s better law schools.

In addition, my physical therapist wife tells me that she always seeks to hire Chapman graduates for her clinic, because they are consistently well trained in the theory and in the practical aspects.

But it does not stop just with teaching.

Under Doti’s direction, Chapman has made a concerted effort to be involved in and give back to the community in general.

One of the examples of that is the Military Personnel Law Center (MPLC) & AMVETS Legal Clinic, which began this January at the Chapman Law School under the direction of Dean John Eastman.

This first of its kind program provides legal representation for active duty military families and veterans in all types of civil legal disputes, with a particular emphasis upon problems encountered by combat wounded troops.

Why is this necessary? Because the military JAG lawyers are not allowed to represent the troops or their dependents in nonmilitary civil matters.

So, previously, if military reservists had problems getting out of their leases when they were called up to active duty, or service members were having trouble with car dealerships or deferring student loans because they had been deployed overseas, or wounded service members were denied disability benefits, they would have nowhere to turn for legal assistance.

But now they get that assistance from Chapman’s MPLC.

There is a whole body of law that is designed to help service members in all of these situations, but many of the troops, and even the private attorneys who try to help them, are not aware of the rights they have in this specialty area of the law.

Some of these cases are referred by the MPLC staff to private attorneys who volunteer to help in this good cause, and who receive instruction and guidance from the law faculty.

But other cases are handled by second- and third-year law students under the supervision of faculty members at the law school. Of course, this also has the side benefit of providing lots of practical and valuable hands-on legal experience to the students.

Fortunately, Chapman is uniquely suited to provide that assistance, because it has partnered in this program with Brandman University, which is Chapman’s extension university for adults, and Brandman has 25 campuses around California, many of which are on or near military bases.

In addition, Chapman has another university affiliate on the program, which happens to be the UC Berkeley, and it is close to forming similar ties with two more top notch universities in the San Diego area.

Much of the MPLC program was facilitated by a generous commitment grant of $2.5 million over the next five years from AMVETS of California, which is a nonprofit veterans’ support group. But knowing Chapman, even without this generous boost, it would have still found a way to bring this program into being.

One of our national embarrassments is the way we have ignored the needs of our returning military personnel over the years, particularly those who are physically and mentally disabled.

Today, when they are first wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan, the medical attention our troops receive from the military community is so wonderful that it will bring tears to your eyes.

But once the troops are stabilized and eventually discharged, the Veteran’s Administration is simply not funded well enough to handle their remaining needs.

Until that situation changes, I thought you would be proud to hear that many of the legal needs of these GIs, both active duty and those who have been discharged, are being addressed and met by the wonderful people at Chapman University.

So join me in extending our thanks and appreciation to Chapman for its service to our troops and their families!

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, December 6, 2009

Countering hate, fear and bigotry - by Judge Jim Gray

Alittle while ago I attended a fundraising banquet for the Orange County/Long Beach Region of the Anti-Defamation League. I had always thought that the league was founded by Jews to fight and protect against anti-Semitism, and basically I was right. But what I did not know is that this is only part of the story.

According to the presentation that evening, as well as to the information at, the league was founded in 1913 to stop the defamation of and violence directed toward all people based upon their minority status. So the league is there to counter fear, hate, bigotry, and political or religious extremism wherever it is found, and to protect and pursue justice for all people, including blacks, Latinos and Muslims, in addition to Jews.

How do the people of the league do their work? They monitor current events, public displays and periodicals all over the world to get the latest information and investigate what members of various hate, extremism and domestic terrorism groups are doing, and then make that information available to any legitimate law enforcement, media or public groups that request it. They are also particularly adept at monitoring the Internet, which is difficult but critically important in today’s world.

Where is the need to be found? You might be surprised. Contrary to popular understanding, there are quite a few members of hate and racial supremacist groups, even here in Orange County. For example, Public Enemy Number 1, which is affiliated with the Aryan Brotherhood, is a growing amalgam of white racist skinhead, street and prison gangs that originated and is still based in Orange County. In fact, there are five or six significant white supremacist gangs in our county, including North West Orange County Skins, Golden State Skins and OC Skins.

Their major criminal activity is being involved in the illegal drug trade, but they are also involved in identity theft, fraud, assaults and other violent crimes. There are also white power rock bands that help the racist gang members seek a common culture, here and abroad, that use lyrics that attack and dehumanize minorities.

Often the band members are covered with tattoos with neo-Nazi and other racist symbols and slogans, and, as you can tell from the names of the bands, such as Extreme Hatred, Angry Aryans, and Aggravated Assault, they glorify violence against minorities.

So when law enforcement officials need to know about the roots of these gangs, or what some of the tattoos or graffiti mean, they come to the league for information.

Some of this information is provided to law enforcement in personal meetings, but most of it is passed along in intensive three-day training schools for senior American law enforcement personnel. In addition, the league holds a national counter-terrorism training seminar yearly in Israel, which gives American law enforcement leaders the opportunity to learn counter-terrorism strategies and tactics from the Israel Police’s most experienced commanders, as well as from senior military, security and intelligence officials. These briefings cover such things as suicide bombing prevention, terrorist attack responses, airport and mall security, terrorism’s psychological impact, and police, military and rescue coordination.

The league also publishes an updated encyclopedia of contemporary extremism, as well as a brochure that is a full-color guide to common symbols, logos and tattoos used by hate groups and extremists. Both of these resources are available at

Other programs offered by the league include Peer Training, where students learn to work with their peers to confront prejudice, and Names Can Really Hurt Us, which helps schools respond to name calling, bullying, and harassment.

Another successful league educational program, Campus of Difference, helps college administrators, faculty and students examine stereotypes, expand cultural awareness, and combat bigotry.

More locally, when any of these cowardly acts of hate are found in individual neighborhoods, it is the league that responds to give support and guidance to the intended and unintended victims, and help them cope with and guard against these dangers. But the league always acts with a sensitivity to civil liberties and due-process concerns.

Like with any other organization, neither I nor anyone else will agree with all of their positions. For example, the league is opposed to school vouchers, believing that they could be a threat to the separation of church and state.

In that regard, I plan to discuss the issue with some of them to see if they will change that opposition.

With school vouchers it is the parents who are choosing how to spend the education money, not the government. Therefore, a program of school vouchers is virtually the same thing as the long-successful GI Bill program of educational benefits. In that program, military veterans have spent their government benefit payments for tuition and other educational expenses at religious universities like Notre Dame, Southern Christian University and others for decades, without any constitutional or practical problems.

But our society needs devoted and dedicated institutions that are knowledgeably guarding us from the small minority of extremists who, for their own unbalanced reasons, would spread fear, hatred and bigotry as far into our world as they are able. And because there is no other agency around keeping its finger on the pulse of this volatile area like the league, these people are deserving of our praise, gratitude and respect. I plan to support the league in the future, and I hope you will as well.

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 .