Monday, June 28, 2010

Living his masterpiece daily - by Judge Jim Gray

I want to add my voice and discuss the life and enduring legacy of Johnny Wooden. This great UCLA basketball coach, teacher and family man left us on June 4 at the age of 99, and I cannot think of anyone who better exemplified the way a life should be lived. One of his mottos was to "Make each day your masterpiece," and that is what he did.

When I was a freshman at UCLA in 1963, I happened to have a basketball class at the men's gym that ended at 3 p.m., which was the time the men's varsity team began its practices. I stayed so frequently to watch that later, when they closed the practices to the public, they still allowed me to remain.

The 1963-64 academic year was when UCLA won its first national basketball championship, with 30 wins and no losses, and if you think Walt Hazzard made some great plays during the games, you should have seen what he did during the practices. But the thing that really got my attention was the meticulous planning that obviously went into each practice session.

At the practices, Coach Wooden carried with him a small piece of paper that seemed to have everything organized down to the minute. In fact, he put into operation his motto that "Practice doesn't make perfect – only perfect practice makes perfect."

Coach Wooden would always be teaching during the practices, with such comments as "Be quick, but don't hurry." There was also a time in which one player made a good pass to a teammate for a layup, and Coach stopped the practice and observed that the player who received the pass had not acknowledged or thanked the one who had fed him the ball.

Then he said: "You cannot win a basketball game without cooperation. So thank your teammate when you receive it."

Coach Wooden did not particularly prepare his team to play against any specific opponent. Instead he prepared his players to play their own game as best they could, and let their opponents prepare for them. And never once did I hear Coach mention winning. Instead, he spoke about doing the best they could, and that would be good enough. Those were some of the great lessons in life that I learned from Coach Wooden.

His personal lifestyle reflected his teachings. John Wooden was one of the most celebrated coaches of all time, but he lived in a modest condominium in Encino. He won 10 national basketball championships, but before he kept any championship ring for himself, he made sure that each of his children and grandchildren had one. Throughout his career, which obviously included many pressure-filled moments, he was never heard to utter language stronger than "goodness gracious sakes alive!" (But that happened frequently, and his players knew they were in trouble when they heard it.)

About 10 years ago I sent a letter to Coach Wooden that explained my truly modest connection to the 1963-64 championship team, and asked him to diagram his famous and successful full court press and send it back to me so that I could put it on the wall in my chambers. Almost by return mail he did as I requested, and also sent along a signed picture, as well as a copy of his pivotally instructive "Pyramid of Success," which was his teaching system based upon such things as cooperation and personal responsibility. I framed those three mementos, and they will always have a position of prominence in my life.

Coach Wooden's devotion to his wife Nell, who was his high school sweetheart, was legendary, it has been reported. She died in 1985 after being married to the coach for 52 years, and Coach Wooden made no secret of his desire to rejoin her after his own death. Before each game he would look up to her in the stands and blow her a kiss. Many years later when he was asked if he would allow the UCLA basketball floor at Pauley Pavilion to be dedicated to him, he said yes, but only if it would be dedicated jointly to him and to Nell, and that her name should come first. That is the way it is to this day.

John Wooden was a competitor and is only one of three people to be selected to the Basketball Hall of Fame as both a player and as a coach. (The other two are Lenny Wilkens and Bill Sharman.) In addition, Wooden made 134 consecutive free throws over a 45-game stretch while playing for Purdue, which shows his own individual attention to perfection.

But none of those achievements are as strong as his legacy of being a great teacher.

As he said: "There is nothing more satisfying for a teacher than watching his students make his lessons their own." In his teachings, Coach Wooden had many mottos that set forth his direction, such as "Learn as if you were to live forever, live as if you were to die tomorrow;" "Make friendship a fine art;" "Drink deeply from good books;" and "Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are." His life set forth the results of putting those mottos into practice.

Honestly, with the passing of Coach John Wooden, my life will never be quite the same.

As he once said, "A coach is someone who can give correction without causing resentment."

In various ways, he has taught and given correction to hundreds of thousands of people, including myself, and I don't think there is a resentment anywhere to be found. Just like when I lost my wonderful parents, my father just short of his 80th birthday, and my mother at age 84, I have no complaints.

My parents lived good, useful and full lives, but I simply miss them. And I feel the same way about Johnny Wooden. Thank you coach. Your life was truly a masterpiece, and I will miss you.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Proactive approach to gangs needed - by Judge Jim Gray

Do you want to have a disturbing experience? Then read the book "This Is for the Mara Salvatrucha: Inside the MS-13, America's Most Violent Gang" by Samuel Logan (Hyperion, 2009). The word "mara" is Spanish for "gang," and the word Salvatrucha in El Salvador is slang for "street smart."

This juvenile gang was formed in 1980s Los Angeles by immigrants who were fleeing the civil war in El Salvador. But since many of the founders were former guerrilla fighters, they brought with them a cavalier attitude toward life and death. This in turn facilitated their use of extreme violence that even shocked other gangs in the area. But it also enabled MS-13 eventually to take control of large amounts of gang territory.

By 1996, the U.S. government adopted a policy of deporting MS-13 members back to their countries of origin, in many cases after serving jail or prison sentences here. Unfortunately in many ways that strategy backfired, because it resulted in the deportees using their knowledge, experiences and prison connections to form similar MS-13 gangs around the world.

Today there are estimated to be somewhere between 60,000 and 80,000 members of MS-13. They range all over our country from Alaska to New York, with strongholds in the D.C. area, Nashville, Dallas, Houston, Denver, Charlotte, New Orleans and Knoxville, in addition to Los Angeles. They are also found in Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Spain. All of this makes MS-13 almost as organized and all-pervasive as the Mafia.

The initiation process conveys the depths to which this gang has descended. Males mostly go through the initiation process of receiving the brutality of a full-on assault with unrestrained punches and kicks from the gang members for 13 seconds. The females, who make up about 1% of the membership, can either be initiated in the same way as the males, or they can be "sexed-in," which means that the girl is repeatedly raped by all of the males present until the males are satisfied. But this process also gives those young women almost sub-human status in the eyes of the other members.

The MS-13 makes its money the same way most other criminal gangs do, which is by being involved in extortion and dealing in human, arms and drug trafficking. But due to their reputation for gruesome violence, MS-13 members are also often hired by other gangs as contract killers.

The story of the book centers on a personable and bright young lady named Brenda Paz, who was sent by her parents from Honduras to live with her uncle in Texas. But since this uncle had little time or inclination to treat this "additional mouth to feed" with any affection or caring, she soon sought her "family support" elsewhere, which happened to be with the MS-13 gang.

The book told us that Paz was present when numbers of other crimes were committed, including a time when her boyfriend first beat severely and then killed a casual friend of hers. Eventually Paz was arrested by the FBI and questioned about the murder, and after a while she decided to become a government informant against the gang.

Unfortunately, it was obvious to everyone but Paz that being an informant was an ultra hazardous thing to do. So even though she was thoroughly warned, given a new identity and placed in safe quarters in a different state, she went back to her "friends" in the gang because of boredom and loneliness. But once the gang learned of her cooperation with the government, they lured her out to a lonely place, and brutally knifed her to death, notwithstanding the fact that she was pregnant.

Why am I using this column to discuss things like this with you? Because gangs like this can only thrive, or even exist, by default, which is to say that they fill the void when we don't show enough caring to provide positive role models for all of our children. The truth is that someone will always mentor our children, and if it is not people like parents, basketball coaches, boys and girls club leaders, or school teachers, children will be mentored by people like Charles Manson or gangs like MS-13. These malignant people are always out there recruiting, and when they get hold of children it doesn't take long to get them into a "Lord of the Flies" mentality, which can quickly result in the brutalities and initiation rites used by MS-13.

With this understanding, when I see in the news that people have rallied to raise enough money to preserve the "Hollywood" sign, but positive programs for youth mentoring and employment like Homeboy Industries instituted in gang territories in Los Angeles by Father Gregory Boyle die for lack of funding, I really get frustrated.

So we should address and be pro-active with these problems right now, because ignoring them will result in them becoming more severe. Thus if you want seriously to reduce human tragedies in our communities, as well as crimes and the costs of putting so many people in prison, help to support programs that provide positive mentoring to all of our children. You know where they are, and most of them desperately need our help.

Do you remember the comments printed a few weeks ago in this column from my friend Dr. Earl Fuller about the young men in Pelican Bay State Prison? They told him that they expected to be dead by the age of 25, so under those circumstances it really didn't matter what violence they inflicted upon others, or what violence was inflicted upon them. Why? Because they would be dead soon anyway. Is this the way we want our communities to be? I know that we can do better than 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.

The corrupting of traffic citations - by Judge Jim Gray

In many parts of the country, police have expressly been instructed to issue more traffic citations in order to generate revenue to counteract governmental budget deficits. For example, this has happened in the metropolitan Detroit area, where the state of Michigan reduced its revenue sharing with communities by $3 billion. More tickets have been issued there for driving as little as 5 mph above the speed limit, and traffic warnings have virtually become a thing of the past.

The reason for this action was stated succinctly by the president of the Police Officers Assn. of Michigan, who said: "When elected officials say 'We need more money,' they can't look to the department of public works to raise revenues, so where do they find it? Police departments."

Michael Reaves, the chief of police in Utica, Mich., explained the situation this way: "When I first started in this job 30 years ago, police work was never about revenue enhancement, but if you're a chief now, you have to look at whether your department produces revenues."

An even more direct comment came from Sgt. Richard Lyons of Trenton, Mich., went like this: "They're trying to use police officers to balance the budget on the backs of drivers, and it's too bad. . . . We might as well just go door to door and tell people: 'Slide us $100 now since your 16-year-old is going to end up paying us anyway when he starts driving.' You can't blame people for getting upset."

In Virginia, where a campaign was launched under the title of "Operation Air, Land & Speed," state troopers were ordered to issue as many citations as humanly possible during one particular weekend along Interstates 95 and 81. That effort resulted in the issuance of 6,996 traffic citations. The published reason for the program was that the state had a big deficit, and it needed to find some quick sources of money.

According to California Watch and the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley, our state has also undertaken similar fundraising programs. For example, these two groups reported that during 2009 alone, sobriety checkpoints in California yielded approximately $40 million in state fines and towing fees.

Similarly, the revenue in Los Angeles from red-light cameras doubled from $200,000 per month in 2007 to $400,000 per month by the end of 2009. And this occurred even though several studies had found that those cameras increase traffic collisions and injuries. How so? Because the presence of red-light cameras often results in people unexpectedly slamming on their brakes to avoid a citation, and this directly leads to more rear-end collisions. Nevertheless studies like that did not deter officials in the Washington state from choosing in 2005 to expand the red-light camera programs, because they produced revenues of $32 million.

The best way to reduce traffic collisions at crash-prone intersections is the lengthening of the yellow lights. But, of course, since that action does not put money into the bank accounts of local governments, those adjustments are seldom chosen. To the contrary, some of our state officials are now encouraging the addition of speed sensors to the existing red-light cameras. Why? Because state officials have estimated that those sensors could raise another $300 million for the state by the end of 2011.

Unfortunately, in some jurisdictions the institutional corruption brought about by these approaches has actually been compounded. For example, for a while the private companies that were involved in the enforcement of the traffic fines in Washington, D.C., actually got to pocket a portion of the proceeds, until citizen complaints resulted in that practice being terminated as a transparent conflict of interest.

This is not the purpose of traffic laws. In fact, the use of the Criminal Justice System in this manner constitutes an intolerable institutional corruption. Yes, it is appropriate to assess traffic fines, and it is also appropriate for the revenues received to be used to pay for public expenses. But the purpose of traffic laws is to keep us safe on our streets and highways, and no good purpose can be achieved by changing that focus.

Why is this so? I can think of four reasons. First, if traffic police are used as a revenue source, there will be a tendency to divert them onto traffic duties and away from other duties that would keep us safe.

Second, our way of government requires the good will of the people being "served" by that government. So if people start to see police officers as predators, that good will could be seriously and maybe even irretrievably compromised.

An 80-year-old woman from Bloomfield Hills, Mich., put that thought this way after she received a citation for running a red light that she insists she did not commit: "I told one officer that I used to tell my children that police officers are their friends — but with the (traffic citation) quotas, they are not any more."

Third, the more that police have a vested interest in securing convictions for traffic offenses, the more likely they would be to stretch the truth in their testimony in court. Not a good situation. And fourth, this approach further expands the role and intrusion of government, which will breed more cynicism and cause us to get even closer to the time that governments will tax us on every breath we take.

There certainly are more reasons as well. Do we want law enforcement officers, and even justice itself, to be seen as a means of simply gathering revenues? Please contemplate where a system like that could take us. Yes, most governments now have budgetary problems, but the costs of bringing in the criminal justice system to help alleviate them are simply too great a price to pay.