Monday, May 31, 2010

Right to be 'Rule of Law' city - by Judge Jim Gray

OK, let's calm down and see these recent developments in Arizona and even the city of Costa Mesa for what they really are. They have little or nothing to do with racism and everything to do with legitimate frustration, and even desperation, about the entire situation with illegal immigrants (or undocumented workers, if you prefer). So from the standpoint of all good people, it is simply time for something affirmative to be done!

The first substantive column I wrote for this series was published on July 22, 2007, and dealt with this very subject ("Immigration system is ineffective"). What I said then is what I say now, and that is that I seldom get angry at illegal immigrants, and you shouldn't either. They are simply doing what our system so strongly encourages them to do, and they almost all come to our country for the same reasons our ancestors did: to seek better lives for themselves and their families.

The problem is that the federal government has all of the power in this area, makes all of the rules and does whatever enforcement that takes place, which is not very much. But the federal government mostly does not have to pay for the costs of illegal immigrants. Instead, most of the costs are paid by the state and local governments, and the school districts.

The irony is that it would not be hard at all to install a workable system, but neither the Republicans nor the Democrats actually want this to happen. Why not? Money and power.

Many powerful Republicans are anxious to retain the source of cheap labor that is furnished to them by illegal immigrants, and many powerful Democrats are anxious to have all of these people come into the country on the hope that they eventually will vote for Democrats. In the meantime, many good people on both sides of the issue are being severely punished under the status quo.

What is the resolution? Actually, it is relatively straightforward, and just a three-step process.

First, we must understand that this failed system will never be changed until the federal government has the incentive to change it. So the federal government must be required to pay for all of the governmental costs of illegal immigrants, including health care, education and incarceration.

Second, we, and no one else, should decide how many people can enter our country to work, and for what period of time they can stay. Then we should create a program that allows foreign workers to have something like an "orange" card that will allow them to work here legally during that specified period of time.

This would be much like our former Bracero Program, and would be in addition to our present resident alien and naturalization programs. The workers probably could not bring other members of their families with them, would pay reduced taxes on their income and would receive reduced services for things like health care while they are here. But, since they would be here legally, the workers would be able to obtain driver's licenses.

The third important component of this suggested program would be to use strict sanctions for all employers who in any way hire workers who do not have the proper identification. In effect, everyone in the country would either need a passport, birth certificate, green card or orange card to be able to be hired for a job, so the laws would be applied equally to everyone. Workers who have valid proof of eligibility would be able to work, live normal lives, and travel legally across our borders within the specified times. Those who do not have proper proof would increasingly have trouble finding work, so soon they would probably go elsewhere.

Holding people who hire undocumented workers responsible for their illegal acts would be the key, but it can be done without much difficulty. With today's computer chip technology, we should easily be able to create identification cards based upon people's fingerprints or even the irises of their eyes such that the cards could not be falsified. So there would be no excuse for hiring people who do not have proper identification. And once we have that workable system in place, we could also exclude permanently from admission to the country those non-citizens who persist in violating our laws.

It is time to recognize the legitimate frustration of our state and local governments that are hemorrhaging money to pay for the status quo, but without having any controls whatsoever over those costs. Of course, there will still be problems, but these changes will allow us in large measure to regain control of our borders, reduce dangers and injustices for non-citizens, seriously reduce the burden upon our taxpayers to support such large numbers of people who are here illegally, reinstitute and reinforce the rule of law, bring more employment income back "above the table," and begin to return everybody's lives to normal.

And then — and only after we have a system in place to control our borders — should we address the difficult and truly emotional and sometimes even wrenching issues of who receives "amnesty" and who does not. And in doing this we will have to take into account the large numbers of people all around the world who have applied to enter our great country through proper channels.

States like Arizona and cities like Costa Mesa should not be criticized for wanting our laws to be enforced. In fact, they should be criticized if they do not — and so should we all. So as the June and November elections approach, I suggest you support those candidates for federal elective office who will work to implement a law to require the federal government to pay for the governmental costs of its own failure to put into place a workable immigration system. It would not be hard to fix this terrible situation, so let's push them to do just that!

JAMES P. GRAY is a retired judge of the Orange County Superior Court, the author of "Wearing the Robe: the Art and Responsibility of Judging in Today's Courts" (Square One Publishers, 2010), Why Our Drug Laws Have Failed and What We Can Do About It, A Voter's Handbook, Effective Solutions To America's Problems and can be reached at or Judge Jim Gray is also currently offering his 25 years of experience on the bench to ADR Services in Orange County for Arbitration and Mediation services.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Reality in Pelican Bay Prison - by Judge Jim Gray

A few weeks ago I devoted this column to the comments and observations of my friend Dr. Earl Fuller about his experiences while volunteering at the women’s prison at Chowchilla. The interest in the column was high, and I wanted to share two responses with you were posted on the Daily Pilot’s website.

The first one was: “Finally, some of the horror stories that those of us who have loved ones in prison will be told. I have been sending my son’s story to newspapers for over 2 years, but not one of them has printed it. Maybe now someone will listen to the truth and the people will understand that things are still not right in California.” The second was “What would I feel if a dear one were in prison? I am worried daily because I know someone in prison and he is sick and not being given adequate medical treatment.”

Because Fuller also volunteered to provide medical care at Pelican Bay Prison in Northern California, which houses the most dangerous male inmates, I asked him to give us his observations about the medical care these men received, and to compare it with that received at Chowchilla by the women. The following is a summary of what he told me.

The medical needs and wants of the male prisoners are really quite different than for the women, and I believe the difference is explained on a psychological basis. Women see medical care as a desirable and important adjunct to their life. Having regular visits and care by a physician confers both status and medicine, and both are considered to be a valuable commodity. The male prisoners have a different mindset because the need to see a doctor and take medicine is seen as a sign of weakness. Thus the male inmates try to limit or ignore illness until it can be ignored no longer.

The psychology also differs in another significant way. The male inmates all seemed to be convinced that they would be killed on the outside by the time they were 25 years old. So it didn’t really matter what you did or to whom you did it because you were soon going to be dead anyway. But when they were caught before they could be killed and they were sent away for 50 or 60 years to prison because of one or a series of horrible acts, they were stuck continuing to exist without really ever having learned how to live.

This resulted in most of the inmates existing almost in a vacuum. Their entire day involved being in their special violent offenders housing unit, with breakfast being brought in early, and then watching television until lunch. In the afternoon they were often handcuffed between two guards and taken down to the yard, and then put into a cage of 10-by-25 feet to run around outside for 90 minutes before they were returned to their cells. But this almost always means that when they are eventually paroled at age 45 or 50, they have no skills, no ambition and no abilities. As a result, they are poorly prepared to lead an independent existence, and often almost intentionally return to prison because that is the only place where they feel comfortable.

The prisoners whom I saw medically fell into several categories, which were those with battle injuries mostly from fighting that could not be ignored any longer, those with infections that were getting worse, and those who had contracted diseases. Mostly their sores, cuts and bruises healed quickly, as you would expect in these young people, and the infections were equally responsive, once the inmates allowed us to use medications.

The regularly established clinics ran reasonably well for those afflicted with chronic diseases like diabetes, lung diseases, hypertension and AIDS. But like with the women’s prisons, the need to keep everything fast and cheap was always present. The prisons medically could do a lot more for their inmates, but it takes money that does not seem to be available.

The process used to get them to us to be seen was interesting. First the inmate would back up to his cell door, whereupon a small barred window in his cell was opened and he would be handcuffed. Then he was walked between two guards in flak jackets to my clinic. If he had to wait, he was placed in a waiting box made out of metal and a metal screen, which was about 6 feet tall and 4 feet wide, and also had a small built-in seat inside.

The inmate would be locked into the box until I could see him. He would then be re-handcuffed and brought to me, but I would have about four to six guards around me at all times. When I would ask to have the handcuffs removed so I could examine the patient, the guards wondered about my sanity. Generally, these inmates were not nice people, and some were overtly psychotic. Yet they still got sick and they still needed to be treated humanly, if only for our sake — if not for theirs.

Those are some of Fuller’s comments. What he did not address was the organized sexual abuse and violence that is often rampant in these facilities. But from my standpoint, all of his observations again strongly reinforce the need for us to provide positive mentors to all of our children — early and often — so that they do not get caught up in the hopeless “well, I’ll be dead anyway” lifestyle Fuller described.

So continue to make special efforts to support things like the YM and YWCAs, Boys & Girls Clubs, Scouting organizations, and after-school sports and academic activities. As was stated a few years ago in this column, a “stitch in time” truly does help to keep our children from this fate.

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, May 16, 2010

Reject cynicism - vote - by Judge Jim Gray

One of the most gratifying things about writing this column is that people often respond, either on the Daily Pilot’s website or to me personally by e-mail.

I always respond privately to the e-mails, but after my column about my having attended the April 15 Tea Party rally in Santa Ana (“We have to rally for beliefs”), I received an e-mail from David Pearse of Costa Mesa that I wanted to share with you, because the beliefs he expressed are not limited to him.

Mr. Pearse’s message focused on my frequent reminders that “if our government isn’t working, we have no one to blame but ourselves.” His point was that what I say isn’t true.

“Our government is basically a mobocracy now,” he wrote. “The poor steal from the rich, and the politicians facilitate the process. The Constitutional Republic we started out with, with its checks and balances and its protections of life and property, no longer apply, as the government has, for the past 200 years, whittled away at these protections until they are now largely nonexistent. I mean, the government can now confiscate private homes in order to build shopping malls.”

Mr. Pearse finishes by saying “Jim, I’m proud to say I’ve never voted in my life. I have not bought into the system, as I know my vote is meaningless, just as your vote has always been meaningless. I am powerless to change the downward spiral in this country, as are you. It amazes me that you still seem to think we can turn things around in this country, when in fact we are doomed to become just another stagnant European type country with perennially high unemployment and perennially low growth.”

With regret, to some degree I believe he is right. But only to some degree. Even though I do not often vote for winning candidates or issues, I am deeply proud to say that I have voted in every election since I became eligible. I often brag about that fact when I speak to young people, and tell them that I hope they can make the same claim when they are my age.

But is all of this naïve — or simply an exercise to make myself feel better? I acknowledge that my pessimism on this subject has been growing over time, particularly with the thorough gerrymandering that both the Republicans and Democrats do jointly to keep elections from being competitive. Nevertheless, I persist.

It is worse for me because I resigned from the Republican party in 2003. I could no longer be a part of any organization that condoned, much less actively supported, the so-called Patriot Act, which I see as a direct attack on our civil liberties — and one that is not necessary to keep us safe.

I am now a Libertarian, and am trying to grow that party’s strength and influence in an effort to promote more liberty and responsibility in our country. But that means that, as a third-party voter, my vote often is diluted below the many votes of those who are still members of the majority parties. (And by the way, if Proposition 14 passes it will destroy third parties in California, so please vote “No.”) Nevertheless, even considering all of these circumstances, I am not where Mr. Pearse is, and hope I never will be.

And then there is the fact that every vote has mattered. What about the votes in Florida in the Bush vs. Gore presidential election of 2000? And what about large numbers of more local elections for political offices and issues, which are sometimes really close? How can anyone justify cynicism in those elections, even if that cynicism may apply elsewhere?

We must also discuss the alternatives. Speaking for myself, I simply will not abandon what is great in our country so that we can become socialistic like France and Greece, or capitalistic police states like Singapore and Saudi Arabia.

Simply stated, we can either do our literal best and continue to affect what we can, or we can withdraw from the process and “go to the beach.” Our great country is still the beacon of hope to most of the world. Its soul is our freedoms, and its strength is derived from free markets and free choice. How can we so easily abandon what has made our country great?

Mr. Pearse raises many valid points, but so what? His withdrawal will never be the correct thing to do as long as I and millions of other Americans continue to be an active part of the political system. What is your opinion about this? If you still hold onto these hopes for our country and posterity, what are you doing to move us back toward liberty and responsibility? As Frank Sinatra sang, are you a ram that keeps butting that dam? In the song, the ram was eventually successful — and sometimes we are too.

Yes, sometimes our heads hurt from continually butting the dam, but in several places we are making progress. As just one example, we Californians can vote this November on the critically important initiative to repeal marijuana prohibition by treating cannabis like alcohol for adults: taxing it, and holding people accountable for their actions instead of what they put into their bodies. Will your vote make any difference? Yes, it will! That vote will probably be close.

So I publicly ask Mr. Pearse to reassess his position, and I ask the same of anyone else who has similar thoughts. Register to vote, educate yourself about the candidates and the issues, support those who are important to you, and join us sometimes idealistic and maybe even naïve people and do what lots of veterans have given their lives to give us the sacred opportunity to do: vote. Sometimes your vote will matter a great deal, and, besides, at least you will know that you tried.

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.” He can be contacted at or .

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Prisons lacking proper care - by Judge Jim Gray

During my time as a trial court judge, I heard many disturbing stories about substandard medical treatment being given to the inmates in our prison system, and recently the federal courts have begun threatening to take action about the situation.

So in an effort to educate myself, I asked Earl Fuller, a good friend of mine and a retired medical doctor who had volunteered to provide medical services in the women’s prison at Chowchilla, if he would share with me some observations about his experiences while he was there.

He agreed to do so, and I am passing his comments along to you as indications about some of the conditions that existed in 1996 that the federal courts would probably have been hearing about.

Why do they care, or why do we? Because one of the responsibilities of a just and moral society is to protect and take care of everyone who is in our custody, whether they be Charles Manson or Jack the Ripper.

The following is a paraphrasing of Fuller’s comments.

You asked me to write about some of my experiences as a prison physician. I retired as a practicing obstetrician and gynecologist after 32 years in Fullerton.

My first position was at the California Women’s Prison in Chowchilla, Calif., and I was there in the spring or early summer of 1996 as a relief physician who took over for regular doctors on leave.

My first assignment was to a “yard” that housed several barracks of inmates. The women were not allowed to have prescription drugs in their possession, so they were dispensed by guards in the morning, noon and evening. Nevertheless, a certain amount of illegal drugs was always available. The inmates also made a horrible home brew called “prunella,” which caused some drunkenness after fermentation.

I was faced with a medical potpourri that was fascinating and would have supplied any medical school with more pathology than the students ever could have handled.

For example, I would see at least four patients a day with hepatitis A, B and C. Generally when a person has all three viruses it is as a result of unclean needles from injecting drugs.

There would also usually be at least four women with syphilis, two women with treated tuberculosis, and large numbers with diabetes, hypertension and arthritis.

Throughout my time there, it was my experience that the prison system’s main financial goal was to house these women as inexpensively as possible. Of course, medicine could be an irritating demand on the budget, so almost any request that could be safely denied was.

I also remember an inmate who requested long socks. She was a rather large woman and was fitted with leather high-top shoes because they were the only ones that fit her.

Unfortunately, the supply room only had short socks that would not come to the tops of her shoes, so her ankles had been rubbed raw and were bleeding from contact with the leather.

She cut the short socks to cover her ankles, but then her uncovered instep rubbed so much that it also became raw. I made four requests for appropriate socks, but they were never granted by the time I left.

Another deeply disturbing expense-saving idea I encountered was not to treat hepatitis until the liver enzymes began to rise, suggesting that the entire liver was beginning to fail.

The liver is a wonderful organ that keeps on functioning until it is almost destroyed.

So when the enzymes are rising because of hepatitis, there is probably less than 10% of the liver remaining.

When faced with the first signs of liver failure, I began treatment immediately. Unfortunately treatment is expensive, as uncomfortable as chemotherapy, and time consuming for the nursing staff.

This made me unpopular with the staff, but medically it was necessary to save as much of the liver as possible or a liver transplant would be the only option.

During my second month, I was moved to do admitting histories and physicals on new inmates. I couldn’t do much but diagnose in this position, because treatment was left to the other physicians. But I do remember talking with a woman who was sent back to prison for violating parole. She said she was riding in a car with her boyfriend when the police stopped them and found a half-smoked marijuana cigarette on the floor in the back seat.

That resulted in her parole being revoked and her being placed back in prison.

Maybe she lied to me, but if not we are paying $35,000 a year to keep her there.

Finally, I can tell you that significant numbers of inmates are in custody for drug problems. But during my entire time working in the prisons, I do not remember seeing any drug treatment, counseling or classes to help the addicts.

We seem only to be punishing them to nobody’s advantage, which is terribly expensive for the taxpayers, and everybody else.

Those are some of Fuller’s comments. So let me ask you. If you or people you hold dear were in prison with untreated failing livers, or feet being rubbed raw for lack of higher socks, how would you feel? What would you do?

Next week we will talk about this issue some more.

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 .