Sunday, January 24, 2010

Discovering new worlds: public speaking - by Judge Jim Gray

Many psychiatrists have reported that the thing most people fear more than anything else is public speaking.

No. 2 is dying, and No. 3 is heights.

Well, I have been involved in public speaking for quite a few years now, and I can tell you that it can be a rewarding and gratifying experience, and it is not at all something to fear.

So here are some tips that will help you be a much more effective public speaker, and I encourage you to try them.

The most important thing in public speaking is showing your audience that you believe what you are saying. If you cannot do that, almost nothing else you do will matter. That point was brought home to me vividly when I was in a speech class at UCLA. Throughout the semester my presentations were basically mediocre. But for my final speech, I chose a topic that was a subject of genuine importance to me: equal rights for African Americans. The speech surprised my professor and my classmates, and this was the first time I learned that I really could do this effectively. So select something that you really believe in, and your chances of getting the attention of your audience will be greatly improved.

Another important point is coming across as being sincere, believable and credible. Harry Truman was once quoted as saying: “Be sincere, even if you don’t mean it.” I’m not sure if the quote is accurate, and I am not encouraging hypocrisy, but showing that you believe what you are saying, and that you are sincere and have nothing to hide will go a long way toward persuading your audience.

In addition, your audience will not care what you think until they think that you care. So any authentic way you can show your audience that you are one of them will assist in getting your message out. One way is to focus upon things you have in common with them, such as you were raised in the same area, your children went to the same type of school, you had the same types of experiences they have had, etc. Another approach I often use when speaking to young people is to tell them that, believe it or not, I myself was actually a teenager for quite a few years. Otherwise, if you do not show your audience how they can identify with you, their attention will wander because they will not emotionally identify with you or the issue you are discussing.

You also must show how the issue you are addressing affects your audience. “What’s in it for me?” will be in the minds of virtually everyone that is listening to you, and your presentation will not be successful unless that question is satisfactorily answered. Actually, when you think about it, that was pretty much the way you educated your children, with stories, examples and lessons that they could identify with, and from which they could benefit. Your audience will be no different.

And, of course, you must prepare your thoughts. In Ed McMahon’s book about public speaking, he recommended the speaker begin to think about the message at least a month before the talk, and begin preparation simply by writing down random thoughts about the subject. Thereafter, those thoughts should be arranged into a beginning, middle and end.

The beginning should be used to establish your credibility, introduce your subject, and show an emotional involvement with your audience. The middle will be the main content, and should include both highly visible visual and emotional images and educated comments about background matters and relevant statistics. The end will be your call to action, in which you show your audience what they should do about the issue. But you will certainly want to remember to tie your closing to your opening, or your presentation will only confuse everyone.

And remember never to apologize for a lack of preparation, education, knowledge or anything else. And also avoid saying words like “before I begin my presentation, I have something important I want to say.” If you fall into either of these traps, you will have demeaned yourself so severely that your audience will not take you seriously — and probably shouldn’t.

Mostly your presentation should be addressed to those people in the audience who have not been converted, or who are not in agreement with you. In other words, don’t waste valuable opportunities by “preaching to the choir.” Successful attorneys arguing to an appellate court will tell you that they spend virtually all of their time addressing those judges who probably are leaning toward the other side.

In addition, you will also want to choose your words carefully. For example, the word “fair” probably has about 40 different meanings. So, as a practical matter, that word has little meaning at all, and its use should be avoided. Being precise in your word selection can turn a dull presentation into one that is dynamic.

Furthermore, think of your notes as a barrier in your communication with your audience because it destroys eye contact. So if you use notes, as most of us do, pause in your presentation whenever you refer to your notes for new thoughts, and then regain eye contact with your audience before you resume.

Although it seems awkward, when standing in front of an audience, you should plant your feet firmly with your weight equally distributed on both feet, and your trunk should be still. Look at any accomplished speaker or singer, and that is what you will see. It looks perfectly natural, and it shows self-confidence. On the contrary, shifting weight from one foot to the other shows a lack of confidence.

Of equal importance, always try to keep your hands in full view of your audience. If you hide your hands, your audience will have a tendency to conclude that you are hiding something from them, and this is death to a speaker. But if your hands are visible, and even used to emphasize particular points, they will help you become much more persuasive.

Another important lesson is to speak in the present tense whenever possible. We can learn a great deal from the simplicity of small children, and this is what they do.

Your audience will be much more likely to answer your call to action when you address something that is happening now, instead of something that you phrase as having happened in the past.

You will also want to vary both your pace and your pitch. Speaking fast is almost never a good thing to do — in fact, the opposite is almost always true. And there is seldom something more intriguing to your audience than for you virtually to whisper when you are discussing some important point. Varying pace and pitch will keep them interested.

Finally, one of the most effective tools of formalizing a presentation is to condense your entire message into a 10-word telegram for yourself. This will help you to crystallize both your thinking and your presentation itself. And keep your speech under an hour, if at all possible. People mostly cannot concentrate for longer than that.

If you think about it, you probably have a number of important things you have learned that you would like to pass along to other people that would help to make their lives better, safer, or more interesting. Developing your talents as a public speaker will help you to do just that.

And besides, next week we will be discussing the tragic but true state of affairs that our government is not only dysfunctional, it is broken.

This problem is so severe that we will need everyone, including you, to help promote a discussion about what we can do to make government more functional and responsible.

So I will give you a week to start practicing!

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, January 17, 2010

May each deserve a sprig of verbena - by Judge Jim Gray

Last week you heard from my good friend Judge Andrew Guilford about his thoughts and involvement in the preparation of this column for the past 2½ years. And, as you have seen, he has been constructive and helpful in developing those thoughts, even though at times, he did not even agree with some of them. My wonderful wife, Dr. Grace Walker Gray, has sometimes been in the same situation, and has been equally helpful.

But that says a great deal about a person, and that is one reason why I would trust important decisions about the safety of my family and treasure to people like my wife and Guilford. In most things, people cannot reasonably decide for or against a position unless they understand exactly what that position is. In fact, it is arrogant to make decisions unless you understand all sides of the issues.

On a larger and quite different scale, Emma Darwin, Charles Darwin’s wife, was in the same situation. Devoutly religious, she watched as her husband slowly worked out his theories of evolution. And, even though she did not agree with the thrust of those theories, she was his strongest partner and admirer throughout that process, and that helped him to make those thoughts and theories more precise.

Well, it takes a strong person to help others formulate thoughts and ideas that are contrary to their own. Emma Darwin was one of those strong people. But, as the story goes, she was able to get in the last word once Charles Darwin died, when she told her children that although their father did not believe in God, God certainly believed in their father.

As a further illustration, my wife and I recently saw “Invictus,” which was about Nelson Mandela as he assumed the presidency of South Africa and attempted to change it away from its prior policies of Apartheid. The movie’s story centered upon his use of South Africa’s rugby team, and his conclusion that blacks should not force the white Afrikaners to change the team’s colors, even though those were the colors that represented the past oppression. Mandela argued that because they were victors in the struggle against Apartheid and in control of the government, the blacks should understand the present concerns of the former oppressors, and show them that they were welcome to remain as an important part of their country.

In this spirit, Mandela quoted the poem “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley, which, he said, had maintained him through the decades that he was imprisoned by those former oppressors. The poem ended with: “It matters not how strait the gate, How charged with punishments the scroll. I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.”

A person, a society or a government that is the captain of its soul will have the strength to understand and even respect the opinions, views and feelings of others. It is only then that honest discussions can begin, compromises can be hammered out, and peace can have a chance to prevail.

In my view, that is probably the main reason why President Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, although this award was flamingly premature. Rightly or wrongly, it was the perception of many people around the world that our government thought it had all of the answers, and was not willing to listen to anyone else, much less partner with them. But when that perception was changed, this was seen as furthering the cause of peace so substantially that Obama was given this prestigious award. Of course, now that he has received it, I deeply hope Obama goes on to earn it.

Finally, when I was in a literature class at UCLA, I was assigned to read a book called “The Unvanquished” by William Faulkner, which is one of the most pivotal books I have ever read. The story was set around the chaos of the Civil War, where people were mostly forced to be involved with violence to survive. But although the hero of the story, Bayard Sartoris, was well schooled in killing, he was able to rise above it, face his enemy alone and unarmed, and forgive that enemy for past serious wrongs that had been inflicted against him and his family.

Sartoris’ acts, which were found to be above courage, would break the cycle of violence for himself and his descendants. For such acts he was awarded a sprig of verbena. This is a flower with a lemony scent that is strong and almost impossible to forget. In the story, the verbena is equated with heroism and bravery that is so strong that it cannot be argued with or dissuaded, and it was awarded to Sartoris by the female lead of the story, even though she did not agree with his refusal to commit violence.

Now this is not to say that people should compromise their values and, of course, there also are times that people must fight to protect and defend what they hold dear. Thomas Jefferson understood this when he said that “Anyone who beats his swords into plowshares will soon be plowing for someone else.” So obviously there are many situations in life that call for courageous responses. But sometimes there are also some important occasions that call for something greater than courage — they call for verbena.

We are confronting one of those occasions now, because today our society has become unnecessarily punitive, particularly in the criminal justice system. As a direct result of that approach, our country leads the world in the incarceration of our people, which is enormously expensive both in financial as well as human terms. As such, we need people who are highly placed in government, who are strong enough to act counter to the “prevailing wisdom” that punishment is almost always the answer, and to earn a sprig of verbena.

Emma Darwin, Guilford, and Walker Gray, from what I have seen, you are truly the captains of your ship. And for your understanding, counsel and devotion to the free-flow of ideas and to the spokespersons of those ideas, I find you to be deserving of a sprig of verbena. And on a larger scale, Obama and Mandela, for your efforts and actions to take people and governments away from arrogance and the perpetuation of unnecessary violence, and for your meaningful attempts to bring people together in peace, I award you a sprig of verbena.

May each one of us in the course of both our personal and professional lives, be the captains of our ships as well, and, on the right occasions, be deserving of a sprig of verbena.

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, January 10, 2010

‘But, oops, I’ve got a deadline to meet’ - by Judge Jim Gray

This is the 117th column I have written for the Daily Pilot. When the editors and I first reached an agreement, I committed for only a year. But it has been so much fun and such a challenge, and I have received so much gratification from your comments and responses, that I simply had to keep going. And the editors graciously allowed this to occur.

Almost from the beginning of this project, I asked one of my best and most admired friends, Andrew J. Guilford, a U.S. District Court judge in Santa Ana and former president of the State Bar of California, if he would look at the drafts of my columns to give me his thoughts, criticisms and suggestions.

By no means has he always agreed with what I have written, but his comments have made the column much more interesting and insightful. If you only knew...

My wife, Dr. Grace Walker Gray, suggested that I offer Guilford the opportunity to provide you with some of his observations about the process of writing the column, as well as some of the thoughts expressed in it. Happily, he has agreed, and this also gives me the opportunity publicly to thank him. His comments are as follows:

I was impressed a few years ago when my friend Jim Gray said he would be writing a weekly column, in addition to his busy day job. I’ve previously had to write a monthly column, and I found that 12 deadlines a year were daunting.

Jim has now met about 50 deadlines a year, and 117 overall. For this he deserves commendation, yet he has received some condemnation from me, as his friend, for some of the conclusions in his column. Still, maybe that’s what friends are for, and Jim has always taken my criticisms gracefully and in stride. I hope Jim agrees with my conclusions here on seeking answers when faced with uncertainty.

We all have been cursed/blessed with a fascinating world of uncertainty, and great friends can help us as we struggle to find answers.

Should we legalize (or decriminalize) drugs? Should we fight a war on terror? Should we add further regulations to our laws? What is the best form of meditation? Should I wish you a Merry Christmas? Is there a God?

Some think uncertainty is a curse, particularly as to that last question. But I think uncertainty is a blessing. For as we struggle to find answers, we define who we are and we shape our souls. Uncertainty gives us chances to learn, discover, and grow.

Life would be so boring and stagnant if all the answers were obvious. This makes me wonder if whether, even in heaven, there will be uncertainty so that we will have chances to experience learning and discovery and growth, and avoid stagnation. Hey, Jim, maybe you could write a column on that!

Jim probably agrees with me that the worst answers to a question are “I don’t know” or “I don’t care,” and perhaps this is because judges must make judgments. Many people today respond to the blessing of uncertainty with indifference. Perhaps lost in a fog of relativism, they can’t or won’t find answers.

But there are answers to all the important questions, and there is one truth for important issues. Life is richer if we strive to find those answers and that truth while retaining an open, inquisitive mind always skeptical that we have found the often-elusive truth that we know is there. Jim strives to inform himself on the issues, and he reaches conclusions. He even seeks input from friends like me, especially when we disagree.

It is a particular blessing to explore issues with a friend like Jim. Readers of his column must appreciate that he has expressed his own unique conclusions on a wide range of issues. Even when I sometimes disagree with his conclusions, I remain impressed with the breadth of his curiosity.

In this short column, I can’t begin to describe Jim’s rich life experiences, which make him the perfect person to write a column on such a broad spectrum of topics. Much about Jim is commonly known, in part from the brief statement at the end of his column — he has written two books and the words and music to a musical that I recommend.

But most don’t know that he’s a darn good basketball player in his seventh decade (putting him in his 60s, which raises another interesting issue about how we count decades or centuries or millenniums). He’s an even better tennis player. He’s a great singer. And if you read his column, you know he’s developed a crisp, accessible — even chatty — writing style that effectively communicates his ideas.

Jim obviously learned much during his career as a judge, and also from his father, a distinguished gentleman who was, as I am today, a federal district judge.

Many years ago when I was a law student, Jim’s father rejected my application to be his legal extern, so there is a real irony that his son now invites me to comment on his columns. It was also ironic that Jim gave me his father’s judicial robe as I became a judge, which reflected Jim’s graciousness and generosity.

Disagreements between Jim and me have existed from the time we became good friends, mostly because that has allowed us to have some sensitive discussions. I have been particularly critical of some of Jim’s comments on religion, both mine and others. By God, I think he is wrong on some points!

I’ve also been critical when he claims to embrace a philosophy, like libertarianism, and then occasionally endorses regulations that are abhorrent to libertarians. But then again, maybe that just reflects his inquisitive, unpredictable, renaissance mind.

Yes, indeed, Jim is a professed libertarian, who supports some regulations that most libertarians view as part of a nanny state mentality. He is an intensely patriotic American exceptionalist, who is disgusted by what this country has done in Iraq. He is a former prosecutor and judge, who wants to legalize drugs. He is a fan of Milton Friedman and the free market, who supports some non-market responses to environmental issues. No doubt, I dissent to some of Jim’s conclusions.

But I have grown and learned from my disagreements with Jim. Probably you readers sometimes disagree with him, too, and have learned from him as well. Of course, Jim and I also often agree, but the blessings of our friendship are most apparent when we disagree.

One of the biggest lessons for me is that friends can disagree with passion while retaining a strong and supportive friendship. Oh how I wish those leaders bickering on the world stage today could learn from the example of Jim’s grace in debating issues with dissenters, like me.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, who, like Jim, served in the military and as a lawyer and judge, once said that he had felt “the passion of life to its top.” With Jim’s remarkable life experiences and his toils in the vineyard of ideas, Jim knows the passion of life to its top. None of us can know that without properly confronting all the challenges and uncertainty that life presents. Jim’s columns help us do that.

So we’ve all been blessed with 117 columns by Jim, each one guiding us in our searches for answers in a world of uncertainty, and I look forward to many more.

I could go on and on, but, oops, I’ve got a deadline to meet!

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

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Taking taxing to the most logical limits - by Judge Jim Gray

While contemplating the gathering of information to prepare for my 2009 income tax returns, I started thinking about all of the different and creative ways governments come up with to impose taxes on all of us. Worse yet, most of the time we are not really even aware of the extent of that taxation.

Have you thought about all of the occasions in our daily lives that the governments reach their hands into our wallets?

Obviously there are income taxes, where some people think the process of withholding money from our paychecks has made this tax less painful, and others feel the lost interest increases the pain. And, of course, there are capital gains taxes on investment earnings, and yearly taxes on the ownership of real property.

Then there are the state, county and city sales taxes. In Orange County, the total sales taxes are 8.75%, and in Los Angeles County they are 9.75%. That makes my neighbor, who owns a home improvement store just over the Orange County line into Los Angeles County, really upset, because his customers will actually drive about 10 miles farther to make expensive purchases inside Orange County just to save that 1%. But any way you look at it, all of us pay a pretty large amount of money in sales taxes.

Most of us are aware that motor fuels are also taxed at a high rate, but did you know how high they are? In California motorists pay 63.9 cents per gallon for gasoline, and 72.9 cents for a gallon of diesel — and that is in addition to sales taxes! Imagine how much money that brings into various governments each day. The rationale for those high taxes is that the money raised will be used to build and maintain our roads and other transportation facilities. But often politicians find a way to divert it to other purposes, because they simply cannot ignore large amounts of money that are not being spent.

Other large sources of revenues for governments are the so-called “sin” taxes that are imposed upon cigarettes, which are taxed in California at 87 cents per pack, hard alcohol at $3.30 per gallon, and wine and beer at 20 cents per gallon. We also have inheritance taxes, or the so-called “death tax,” that take a fairly large chunk of the estates of deceased people above a certain value.

Those are the taxes that are normally the most visible. But have you looked recently at your telephone bills? My examination of my monthly Verizon cell-phone bill showed me that of the $30.81 total charges, 8.6%, was for various taxes and surcharges. There was even a charge of $1.75 not to publish my listing! (Maybe we all should start businesses of not publishing people’s telephone numbers, and then charge them a fee for it?) I would also pass along to you the amount of taxes on our AT&T home telephone bill, but I couldn’t figure them out.

There are similar taxes, fees, charges and surcharges on all other utility bills as well, which are mostly blended into the overall bills to obscure how much they are, or what they are for. But you get the idea. Similarly, I recently I flew from Orange County to Washington D.C., and calculated that the “taxes, fees and charges” came to a full 15.7% of the cost of the ticket.

The worst situation for added charges that I am aware of is, embarrassingly enough, with so-called “penalty assessments” that the court system imposes when people have committed a traffic violation. That means that when, for example, a person is ordered to pay a traffic fine of $100, the court is required to order the person also to pay penalty assessments of an additional $344.

These fees are assessed for such things as DNA testing, court security screening, the law library fund, court maintenance, traffic school and even unspecified “surcharge” fees. And it has been known that some judges inform traffic offenders only that they will be paying a fine of $100 “plus penalty assessments,” so the people find out how much they will actually owe only when they go down to the clerk’s office with checkbook in hand.

I was as much in the “responsibility business” as any judge, but it seems to constitute an institutional lack of integrity to add such a high percentage of fees onto the fines that we assess. Nevertheless, judges are expressly forbidden by law to waive any of these fees, because the folks in government are so hungry for extra money, and have run out of other options.

How has this situation become so extreme? The answer is that governments continue to grow and, therefore, they need more money to pay for additional employees, assets and programs. This is logical because it is the natural function of any bureaucracy to increase its size and power. But do we really need to have and pay for all of this government? For example, do we really need agencies like the Bureau of Indian Affairs? The Native Americans don’t think so.

Similarly, and as has been discussed in previous columns, why should governments own things like county fairgrounds, sports complexes and theaters? If there is a public need or desire for such things, the free market will provide them — and run them much more efficiently along the way. Or why should the government be involved in the partial ownership and running of automobile companies, banks or health-care services? Setting up oversight over these activities? Certainly, but that’s all.

In addition, why do we continue to require that mail delivery be publicly run? In today’s world of electronic bill paying, e-mail correspondence and computer teleconferencing, the amount of first-class mail that is being sent is steadily decreasing. Nevertheless, we continue to maintain the expensive U.S. Postal Service monopoly. Why not instead have Congress decide how much of a bounty it is worth to the public to have things like newspapers and magazines delivered through the mail and pay that amount to any carrier that will deliver them? Then we can open up all mail delivery services on low-bid contracts to companies like Federal Express or the United Postal Service, who will do the job better, and for far less money than the U.S. Postal Service.

Finally, I want to pass along to you a story. When I was a military lawyer at the U.S. Naval Air Station in Guam, for reasons only the Navy could explain, I was given the responsibility of overseeing the station’s child care center. When I took over the operation, the numbers of children left by parents with the center per day were down, the center itself was losing money, the staff was underpaid, and morale was poor. After assessing the situation, I ordered that the charges per hour per child be reduced, employees who were performing well be given a raise, and non-performing staff be let go.

Within four weeks, the center was full of children, morale was high, and we were making a profit. Government can learn important lessons from experiences like that. Often by reducing taxes and other fees the economy will improve, the government will actually increase its gross revenues, and everyone will be better off.

So the ultimate Libertarian lesson is that you and I must exercise the supervisory powers we inherently have over government as taxpayers and voters to reduce the size, power and expense of government. Then we can reduce taxes and other related fees, and along the way be able to spur the economy and the creation of jobs much better than we are doing today. But without our involvement, governments will continue sinking into their present sea of red ink.

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 .