Sunday, January 30, 2011

Pursuing a truly lost cause - by Judge Jim Gray

You have probably seen recent newspaper articles saying that the only U.S. manufacturer of sodium thiopental — the anesthetic that begins the three-drug process used in putting condemned prisoners to death — has announced that it was immediately ceasing production of that substance. The stated reason was that the company did not want any of its products to be associated with killing people.

At this point, California still has enough of the drug for about 80 executions, but after that it will be forced to look elsewhere.

There are companies in other countries that manufacture sodium thiopental, but it is a violation of law for many of them to export it to "rogue countries" for use in capital punishment. Of course in this case, one of those rogue countries is ours!

And in those countries where its exportation is not illegal, there has been such a strong political backlash that the companies are not allowing its sale for that use. For example, Germany's minister of health publicly urged all companies and distributors not to provide the drug for such a purpose because, as he expressed it, such use is not in keeping with German and European values.

So if California cannot obtain enough sodium thiopental for use in executions, it will be forced to designate an alternative drug. But that would mean more hearings would have to be held, which would provide for more lengthy legal challenges.

And those challenges are what have stopped any executions from taking place at all in California for the last five years. Right now 718 prisoners are being held on death row, and by the time this issue with sodium thiopental is resolved, there will literally be hundreds more. And then, as a practical matter, some other "unforeseen" issues will probably crop up, resulting in further delay.

Recently the group Death Penalty Focus circulated what it calls a Joint Statement from Law Enforcement Professionals on California's Death Penalty to people who would qualify to sign it. For more information, visit That statement reads as follows:

"We are current and former law enforcement officers, prosecutors, judges, and corrections officers who have devoted our lives to improving public safety as well as the accuracy and fairness of the criminal justice system. Having seen the system from the inside, we know that the death penalty is deeply flawed for myriad reasons. We come to this issue from a variety of perspectives.

"For one or more of the following reasons we have concluded that the death penalty in California is not working: 1) In a time of increasingly shrinking public safety resources, with an annual cost of at least $137 million per year in California, the death penalty is extremely expensive and diverts too many crime-fighting resources from other critical public safety needs; 2) The risk of wrongful conviction and execution cannot be entirely eliminated; 3) The system fails victims' families, who are dragged through years of appeals and uncertainly; 4)The death penalty as it is currently administered is no more a deterrent to murder than permanent imprisonment; and/or 5) The vast majority of death row prisoners in California will meet the same fate as those sentenced to permanent imprisonment; they will die in prison despite the extraordinary additional expenses incurred by the taxpayers of California.

"Therefore, we support replacing the death penalty with effective alternatives, such as permanent imprisonment."

So far a large number of current and former law enforcement professionals have already signed that document, including state judges and justices, state and federal police, prosecutors, probation and parole officers, and members of the California Department of Corrections, including Jeanne Woodford, a former warden of San Quentin State Prison.

I have signed the statement as well. Death Penalty Focus plans publicly to release the list of signatories later this year.

Many of the reasons for my conclusions were set forth in my columns published in this space March 16 and 23, 2008. If you are interested, you can find them either on the Daily Pilot's website or my own. And since that time, my conclusions have only become more firm.

Among other things, what people do not understand is that the system can make mistakes — in fact dozens of death row inmates around the country have later been exonerated! Furthermore, it costs the taxpayers about seven times the amount to go through the court's death penalty process — with all of the extra attorneys, investigators, hearings and appeals — than it would be to investigate, prosecute, convict, go through the appellate process and house a defendant in prison with a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.

In addition, because no one who has been sentenced to life without parole in California has ever been released or escaped, that should not be an issue.

But what above all has convinced me to oppose the death penalty is the fact that under this system the loved ones of the victims are literally being played as political pawns. If closure ever comes at all, it usually comes only when the perpetrator dies in prison of other causes — after decades of the matter being kept in limbo. And that is simply too much grief to inflict upon the families.

Yes, many family members do want the maximum legal sentence to be imposed for causing the death of their loved one, and that is understandable. But if that maximum sentence statutorily would simply be life without parole, most of them would probably be satisfied and then they could move on with their lives.

Many legal professionals who have been intimately involved in the death penalty system have seen that it is not working. It is time for the rest of California to come to the same conclusion.

JJAMES 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.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Honest appraisals in our times of need - by Judge Jim Gray

Recently I heard KFI AM's Bill Handel say that Southern California Edison is attempting to increase its rates by 7% so that, among other things, it can cover the economic losses sustained by the pension plans of its retirees. Now wait a minute! Almost everybody's retirement plans took big economic hits during this recession, so why would we be required to reach into our pockets to pay for the losses sustained by the SCE workers? Simply stated, this is wrong, and things like this need to be addressed.

Gov. Jerry Brown's proposed state budget is addressing some of these things. Of course it also includes prolonging $9 billion in expiring annual income, sales and vehicle taxes, which is a problem, but it also seriously would reduce spending for some of his political party's favored projects. He deserves credit for that. And it also responsibly proposes a shift of the $1.7 billion annual funding of municipal redevelopment agencies from the state to local governments, which would be great for the state, but tough on the locals. (I say "responsibly," because the more local funding and control of these programs, if we must have them, the better.) Of course, now the city governments are disposing of these monies as fast as they can, so that the state can't get them back.

Further to his credit, the new governor is also urging basic structural changes to the state's prison system, which include having non-violent, non-serious, non-sex offenders, who do not have any previous convictions for such offenses, stay under the guidance of the county courts instead of being sent to state prison. Without question some people belong in prison, but we also must understand that when that happens we will be putting them into a callous and hardened world from which many of them will not return. So it is frequently better to deal with drug addictions and other non-violent anti-social behavior with treatment and responsibility programs while on strict county probation than sending people to the state "correctional" facilities. This will not only save lots of money for the taxpayers, it will also help to address the defendants' underlying problems.

So for his efforts, I award Brown a C-plus, which is much better than the Ds and Fs his predecessors in the statehouse and Legislature have earned. But why is the governor's rating still so mediocre? Because Brown's approaches do not address the real and basic reasons for our budget shortfalls, which are the benefits going to politically powerful labor groups like the prison guard's union, and, even more importantly, public employee retirement benefits.

For example, as recently as 2002, taxpayers in Los Angeles contributed less than $100 million to the Los Angeles City Employees' Retirement System — and that was enough for it to be completely funded. But last year, even though the contributions by taxpayers reached above $400 million, the system was more than $2.3 billion in the hole.

How has this happened? First, almost all of the elected officials on city councils and county boards of supervisors statewide have an innate conflict of interest. The groups that care most about who is elected to these positions, and those who most diligently exercise their influence in the elections, are the public employees' unions. Why? Because these elected officials mostly control what benefits will be afforded to the unions' members.

So once the elections are over, if the newly elected officials do not provide the desired financial results to the unions, they know that the unions will support someone else in the next election. Thus the public officials try to keep their jobs by voting for huge benefits for the unions' employees. Of course this means that no one is minding the store for the taxpayers. So often the final salary used to compute the pension plans of the retiring public workers is inflated by inappropriately, but legally, including such things as overtime payments, car allowances, costs of uniforms and unused sick leave and vacation time.

Second, when employees are forced to contribute to their pension benefits, they tend to choose programs that make more business sense. For example, if the choice were solely theirs to make, many people would continue working longer so they could have Medicare benefits when they retire. That in itself would delay the onset of retirement for five years for the average worker, which would, in turn, cut pension costs by about half. But the employees' unions' intervention with their sweetheart deals change the equation.

The bottom line is that public employees should be required to fund their own retirements through economic tools like 401 (k) programs, just like in the private sector. Then workers would logically fund the programs that make economic and social sense to them.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg says that pensions like this will be his No. 1 priority, and Brown and the Legislature should follow suit. But until this comes to pass, public pension retirement boards should be controlled by financial experts who are hired by financially independent foundations, so those making decisions about pensions can be free from conflicts of interest.

Brown deserves credit for moving the discussion in the right direction. But now you and I must do our part to bring all of our governments back to solid financial footing, and change the pension plan programs for public employees. If not, this will inevitably be done, after a great deal more financial grief, by a federal bankruptcy court.

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, January 24, 2011

Ways to protect your home - by Judge Jim Gray

Recently I saw a flier published by the Newport Beach Police Department titled "When a Stranger Knocks" that discusses ways to protect your home. The flier also offered a free individualized home inspection with NBPD's crime prevention unit.

I was intrigued, so I called and spoke to Crime Prevention Specialist Andi Querry about the program, and she gave me some suggestions that even should be used if you live in a gated community.

The first focus of attention is your house's landscaping, especially near the front door. Large bushes and plants, as well as trees with low-hanging branches, can conceal potential burglars from your view and should be removed or trimmed. In addition, $200 will purchase a security camera system that is low tech and easy to install that will greatly expand your vision. Porch lights with at least 60-watt bulbs should also be placed on timers so that they provide illumination throughout the night. And movement detector lights are also helpful, but should only be installed in side areas of the house, where there is not much expected movement from cars, animals or large leaves being moved by the wind.

Starting at the front door, dead bolts are a must. Many doors come with deadbolts but have only small screws holding the strike plate to the door frames. These should be changed to 2- to 3-inch screws, because otherwise the doors can easily be forced open. In addition, if your front door is within 40 inches of a window, the inside of the deadbolt should only be able to be opened with a key, not with a thumb knob. But keep the key hidden from the view of someone standing outside and also keep the key on a large chain so you will not forget and put it in your pocket. Otherwise in a fire or other emergency you could actually lock yourself inside of your own house!

Another important safety device is having a 180-degree view peep hole in all doors that lead outside. These are important so that you can see anyone who is knocking before answering your door, and also for you to scan the area around your door before you do such things as taking out the trash. Of course, you should also be quite careful of people who identify themselves are utility service or repair workers unless you requested the visit. Many times burglars masquerade as those workers to gain access to people's houses, and then do bad things.

Residents should also install hardware protectors on all windows, which are available at most hardware stores. One of the best ways to protect wooden, double-hung windows that open up and down is simply to drill a small hole through the frames of the upper and lower windows, and then insert a long screw or nail into the hole. This will provide protection even if the window lock is breached.

Similarly on outside doors with outfacing hinges, drill a small hole in the top, middle and bottom of the doorframe on the side of the hinges and hammer a strong nail into the door that will fit into the holes when the door is closed. Then those nails will keep the door in place if anyone removes the pins from the hinges while the door is closed.

In addition to their normal locks, all sliding doors and windows should be secured with a wooden dowel that extends the full length of the particular door or window. Using dowels that are cut three or four inches shorter to allow for ventilation allows burglars to use wires or other tools to pop them out and then open the window. But if you really need the ventilation, in addition to the shorter dowel, put a bell on the window that will ring or something like a vase that can fall should someone outside disturb the window. Not only will the noise call your attention to the possible entry, it could very well scare away the potential intruder. But even if you think the intruder has fled, be sure to call the police.

It is also a good idea to install timers on lamps or other light fixtures inside your house so that some lights are on at night.

If you have a pedestrian entrance door on your garage door, be sure it is of solid construction, and that it stays locked. In addition, it is a good idea when you go on vacation either to unplug your garage door opener, or to put a padlock onto its track until you get home. And if you don't have a deadbolt lock on the door entering your house from the garage, you should install one – and use it!

Finally, if you have a burglar alarm system, use it as well. Many times people find these systems can be a nuisance and continually experience false alarms. But the answer is to adjust the alarm systems to fit your lifestyle instead of disabling them.

There are many more tips as well, such as never using companies to feed your pets while you are on vacation that advertise who they are on their vehicles. That simply allows burglars to follow those vehicles to a group of empty homes. And always make arrangements with someone you trust to pick up your mail, newspapers, packages and dry cleaning.

If you have more questions about security in your home, and live in Newport Beach, call Querry at (949) 644-3699. If you live elsewhere, call your local police department. What do you have to lose?

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.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Why liberty is so important to us - by Judge Jim Gray

January 08, 2011|By James P. Gray

The response to last week's column asking our politicians to dare to lead and dare to lose was substantial, and mostly positive. The column closed by commenting that there is nothing wrong with our country that cannot be resolved by us once again becoming Americans!

But what does that really mean? The column last week also said that we became great by our own grit, and by respecting and enforcing private property rights and free trade, and that's certainly true. But fundamentally none of these things would have been effective without liberty. Therefore, when it comes down to it, the strength of America is our liberties.

So that necessarily brings up the question, what is liberty, and why is it so important? The formal definition generally is that liberty gives a person freedom from despotic or arbitrary rule or control. More specifically, liberty gives a person freedom from undue interference by government or anyone else. To look at the impacts of liberty in more depth, I recommend that you read the recently-released book "Why Liberty: Personal Journeys Toward Peace and Freedom," (Cobden Press, Apple Valley, 2010). This book, edited by Marc Guttman, provides the opportunity for 54 different authors to tell their stories about how liberty works where virtually nothing else does.

The first story was written by an African American who discusses a time when he raised his voice in anger while arguing that since blacks had been taken advantage of for so many years, somebody had to pay! Whereupon an older black man, who eventually became his mentor, simply smiled and said: "I don't want nobody's help. Just get out of my way and I can do it myself."

The author never forgot those words, and by following them, he became successful. Then as he grew older, those words became his mantra, because he realized the truth that only he could effectively control his own destiny. And that is what liberty allowed him to do.

Over the years we have taken these stories for granted, and that has led us astray. The problem is that any approach without liberty is inherently self-defeating. For example, for several important reasons, government programs are simply not the same thing as parents or caring private charities. First, they have no flexibility and really cannot discriminate between people who really need a helping hand, and those who are simply lazy or gaming the system. Furthermore, the people administering the government programs really do not have a viable incentive even to make these important distinctions. Why? Because no one really owns the money that the government programs give out; they simply control it.

Private charities are run differently than government programs because they are evaluated by results, not by intentions. Thus in virtually all cases, private charities, which are run by people with liberty, results-oriented flexibility and accountability, yield much better results. One huge example of this is the Orange County Rescue Mission, which is a private organization previously discussed in this column. No government program I am aware of has ever come close.

Another difference between government and private programs is that people who are receiving assistance from private charities are constantly mindful that the generosity comes from somewhere, and it is not their right to receive it. Thus there are much greater feelings of "please" and "thank you" with a private charity, instead of with government programs, where people continually and self-righteously shout about their "rights."

In a similar fashion, the liberty of free trade allows deals to be struck that benefit both sides. This, in turn, breeds a sense of interdependence and trust, and allows those parties to bypass inefficient, protective and often stodgy government bureaucracies. John Stossel illustrated this fact quite well in one of the chapters when he said: "Once established players capture a licensing board, they tend to use their power to stifle competition and keep newcomers out. Every day businesses are killed by 'consumer protection' regulators."

Stossel went on to cite examples of two elderly ladies who liked to knit sweaters and mittens in the comfort of their homes, and then sell their products in local markets, and of another lady trying to stay off welfare by baking muffins at home and selling them door to door to her neighbors. But the authorities closed all three of them down. Why? No businesses were allowed in the home, because they might "disrupt the neighborhood." Of course, this action worked to the detriment of those ladies, as well as their customers, but protected the established businesses, who, in turn, provided support for the government regulators.

In case after case it is shown that the one thing big government is really good at is increasing the intrusion and size of government. That reality also carries over into our political world, as shown by the fact that neither of the two main political parties really ever campaign under the slogan: "If you want something, work and save for it until you can buy it for yourself." To the contrary, all we seem to hear is: "If you want something, vote for us and we'll make others work and save and pay for it."

But the one-word slogan for the Libertarian Party is "liberty." Unlike the two main political parties, what Libertarians promote is not "warm and fuzzy," or based upon the philosophy of what I call "poor baby," but it works. And America will only regain its greatness when we finally go back to it!

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, January 3, 2011

Politicians should take a real risk - by Judge Jim Gray

As we enter into the second decade of the 21st century, we should pause and reflect upon probably the largest reality of human life, which is that circumstances change, and those who do not change with them generally drift into decay and irrelevance. With that in mind, here is a request to our nation's political leaders that they change their ways, and hopefully help us change ours, in light of the new realities of our times.
The most fundamental thing that must be done is for our leaders to tell us the truth as they actually see it. And that should be followed by giving us their honest recommendations about what changes should be made. This is simply a matter of patriotism.
As such, they should actually "dare to lose" their coveted elected positions in this process. Why? Because some things are more important in life than political security, and, for the good of our country, this is one of them. We need some honest leadership! So with this request in mind, here is a list of some of the issues that must be addressed, and the sooner the better. If you want a fuller explanation about them, refer to prior Gray Area columns on the Daily Pilot's website or my website
Focusing first upon domestic issues, the biggest problem facing our businesses, which are the engines of our economic strength and jobs, is uncertainty in the marketplace. So until everyone knows how much the government is going to intervene in our commercial lives, businesses will not take risks. And when businesses do not take risks, economies stagnate. Thus please make it known that government interferences, as opposed to overseeing such things as breach of warranty and contract, safety in the workplace, fraud and anti-trust violations, are firmly behind us.
Next, recognize that the federal government will not be taken seriously about our budget deficits unless it honestly addresses our entitlement programs, and the same thing is true with the states if they do not honestly address our public pensions. Dare to lose if you must, but our governments will never regain their strengths and balance their budgets until these issues are brought under control.
Also high on the list of issues honestly to address are our educational and health-care systems. Our public kindergarten through 12th grade schools are generally failing our children, while our universities are still mostly the envy of the world. Why? Because the universities compete with each other, and the public K-12 do not. Similarly, our increasingly government-dominated health-care industries are failing, while the health-care professionals who are free of government interference, like those who provide Lasik eye and cosmetic surgery, are flourishing. Dare to alienate some strong special interests by telling these truths and help us regain our prior excellence in these areas.
And then there is our tax system, which must be simplified and made more equitable. The best way would be to repeal the income tax system and the 16th Amendment, and in its place implement something like a FAIR Tax upon the final sale of all goods and services, with a rebate to people with incomes below a fixed figure. This would be a tax that everyone could live with and plan for, and along the way it would stop penalizing people for saving and investing money. Furthermore, everyone would receive a "tax break" without any loss of revenue to the government by no longer being required to keep all of these records and pay for the preparation of their income tax returns.
Also please say publicly what so many of you have told me privately, that our nation's policy of drug prohibition has failed and is actually hopeless. All you have to point to is two things. First, under our present system these drugs, harmful though they can be, are freely available to anyone who wants them, especially our children. And second, show what evils are being done around the world by the money from the sales of illicit drugs. In that regard, look no further than Mexico, and the chaos, corruption and violence that are being fostered solely by drug money. And, of course, those evils are increasingly coming into our country as well!
Regarding our foreign policy, help us to understand that realities have changed. In today's world we neither can nor should we try to police the world virtually by ourselves. This is true both because we can no longer afford it, and because we simply cannot impose our will upon others without their desire and cooperation.
Thus our military policy should be controlled by two prongs. First, we should get involved militarily in various problem areas around the world only if the world community decides to participate in that action, unless that matter expressly affects our own national interests. Extremists like the Taliban are as much a threat to Germany, China, Russia, Turkey and Japan as they are to us, and unless those countries choose to participate in whatever action is going to be taken, we should not be involved.
Second, in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, the Sudan and others where extremists are attempting to impose their own selfish will, we should as publicly as possible let the people in those countries know that they will have to control their own destiny. Thus they can choose either to live with anarchy or with freedom — and act accordingly. We cannot — and do not want to — control their country, religious beliefs or lives. We can join the world community in helping them to live in freedom, if they request it, but the fundamental choices about how they will live their lives will have to be made by them.
Finally, and superseding everything else, remind us that our country rose to greatness by our own grit, and by respecting and enforcing private property rights and free trade. There is nothing wrong in our country today that cannot be resolved by us once again becoming Americans! If you do this, we will have nothing to worry about in the coming year, or beyond. And with that, 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 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..