Gray Matters: Judge James P. Gray (Ret.) Celebrates Life and Liberty


Franklin G. West Award: The OCBA’s Highest Honor

Franklin G. West, the son of a local jurist, was an Orange County judge who served for twenty-six years during the mid-twentieth century. Known not only for his impressive legal scholarship and fairness, Judge West was very active in the growing Orange County community. He was reputed to be warm with a fine sense of humor and a keen wit when he spoke.

Franklin G. West left an indelible mark of professionalism and integrity that still inspires us. In the spirit of his example, since 1971, the OCBA has bestowed its most prestigious honor, the Franklin G. West Award, upon a lawyer or judge whose lifetime achievements have also advanced justice and the law. The past list of recipients is indeed impressive. It includes a former California Supreme Court Justice, state and federal trial judges and appellate justices, and some of our county’s most accomplished lawyers.

This year’s West honoree, James P. Gray, has and continues to do much to advance justice in our legal community. His accomplishments are as multifaceted as his talents. As a passionate instigator of local restorative and rehabilitative justice programs to advocating civility and congeniality among the bench and bar, Judge Gray has few equals. He is an author of many contemporary articles and books which are widely read by the bar and public. The Honorable Andrew Guilford, a judge of the United States District Court, himself a West Award recipient, observes, “Jim has given himself in so many ways to the Orange County Legal Community, including the OCBA and its affiliates.” While his views and name are known nationally and abroad, Judge Gray is very much a part of our OCBA community. Below is a sample of his contributions and involvement that support his selection for this high recognition.

Life and Liberty

Judge Gray’s mantra: “Life is Good!” At our recent breakfast meeting, Judge Gray told me, “As Americans, we are the luckiest people in the world. Every day I wake up being thankful for where and when I was born.” Indeed, Judge Gray cherishes the “inalienable” rights of “We the People” so devoutly that, in 2012, he was the Libertarian Party’s candidate for Vice President of the United States. And, no surprise, Thanksgiving is Judge Gray’s favorite day of the year.

Born on Valentine’s Day, Judge Gray is a true romantic. He treasures life’s gentle pleasures with his wife, Grace, as they delight in the evening with a glass of wine while sitting on their front porch with their golden retriever Nixie, traveling (their favorite: the Asian part of Turkey), and Duffy boating in Newport Harbor with friends.

His dry humor catches people off guard. Assumed to be a “formal” judge after taking the bench in December of 1983, he gleefully shocked the legal community when he performed in the OCBF’s first Law Revue talent show by singing the song, I’ve Never Been to an Orgy, accompanied on the piano by his father, William P. Gray, who was a highly respected U.S. District Court Judge and former State Bar President. He was also a part of a three-judge trio at a subsequent Law Revue, where they poked fun at our nation’s policy of Drug Prohibition. Judge Gray has also with two partners composed the musical Convention: The Birth of America, which is an historic and frolicking take on the 1787 Constitutional Convention.

The Birth and Nurturing of a Libertarian

Fittingly, Judge Gray was born in Washington, D.C. His parents moved their young family to Glendale when World War II ended. “My parents taught me to live life knowing that while you’ve been on this Earth you’ve made it a somewhat better place.” As he recounts it: “The best choice I ever made in life was choosing my parents. But I also believe this has given me a moral obligation to help people who didn’t ‘choose’ quite so wisely,” he only partially jokes. (True to his word, he is involved with so many charitable and civic efforts, and on so many charitable boards, they cannot all be catalogued here.)

Inspired by John F. Kennedy’s speech— “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country”— Judge Gray volunteered for the Peace Corps upon graduating from UCLA in 1966. After a crash course in Spanish in Peace Corps training, Jim asked for the “smallest town in Costa Rica that had a high school.” He spent two years in the village of Palmar Norte, bonding with locals by teaching physical education, health, and community recreation.

He recalls taking his LSAT at the U.S. Embassy in San Jose, Costa Rica. After his Peace Corps commitment had ended, he attended the USC School of Law. However, since he received his 1A draft classification as well as a notice to take a physical examination within two weeks of returning home, Jim joined the Navy ROTC so that he could get his schooling behind him before going into military service at the height of the Vietnam War. He “doubled down” by signing up for four years as a lawyer with the Navy’s JAG Corps. Between his second and third years of law school, he was ordered to take a “training cruise” on a Landing Ship Tank (LST) on the rivers of Vietnam. As he tells it, he is only one of two people in the history of the U.S. Navy to be awarded a Vietnam Service and a Combat Action Ribbon on a training cruise.

Fresh out of law school, Jim was stationed on independent duty at the U.S. Naval Air Station in Guam. The most meaningful part of his service? Taking a transport plane to an orphanage in Danang, Vietnam, where he adopted his son, Ky, who is now fortyseven years old. Surrounded at that time by other orphans all eager for adoption, he says, “It broke my heart. I wished I could have adopted them all.”

Returning to civilian life, he served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Los Angeles, eventually heading a unit that prosecuted frauds on the Veterans Administration and Federal Housing Administration. He then worked in a civil law firm for about six years before Governor Deukmejian appointed him to the municipal court. After six years, he was elevated to the superior court, where he served for nineteen years. During that time, Judge Gray sat on every calendar in the superior court except family law.

An Advocate for Liberty’s Power to Help Others

I met Judge Gray several years ago, when we worked together on a Law Day presentation, Invasion of Teenage Privacy. Judge Gray immediately went off-script and engaged the room with his opening words: “Your liberties are under assault!” Since that first meeting, I have witnessed Judge Gray awakening minds and inspiring people wherever he goes, including the Samueli Academy, the Constitutional Rights Foundation-Orange County’s (CRF-OC) Law Day, Constitution Day, and Mock Trial competitions, OCBA sections (where he’s received numerous awards), the World Affairs Council (which he chaired with humor and potent leadership), and the Academic World Quest competition for high school students.

Founding Drug Court and “Drive Alive”

Shortly after his appointment in 1984, Judge Gray revolutionized our criminal justice system. He realized that the criminalization of people with addictions and mental illnesses did nothing to help or rehabilitate them. With the assistance of Orange County’s Probation Department, the Orange County Health Care Agency, and a volunteer organization, he established what was probably the nation’s first-ever Drug Court, which focused on certain alcohol-related offenses.

The success of his novel approach was soon clear: 65% of the participants stayed off alcohol for at least six months. Judge Gray would (for the best-performing probation candidates) step down from the bench to shake people’s hands and congratulate them. One stupefied man, still holding Judge Gray’s hand, replied: “No man has ever congratulated me for anything in my life.” On other occasions, men broke down and cried after Judge Gray had encouraged them: “I know you can do better and lead a successful life.” He was also flooded with emotional letters. One woman wrote, “I was going to divorce my husband because he would get drunk and hit me and be irresponsible with our children. But, since he has been on your program, he is again the man I married. Thank you for giving me my husband back.”

Judge Gray also founded “Drive Alive” through the Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD), which focused on prevention through education, where high school students created posters and bumper stickers to highlight the dangers of impaired driving. Judge Gray also ordered young offenders to emergency rooms, or sentenced adults to hear from victims face-to-face, so that each defendant could witness the potential carnage and devastating impact of their impaired driving.

For his vanguard efforts, Judge Gray received awards from MADD, the Drug Policy Foundation, and the Orange County Bar Foundation (Project Youth).

Founding Peer Court

There’s a saying in Juvenile Court that originated from Justice Henry Moore: “Children should only be required to wait so long for their parents to grow up.” Judge Gray used that saying frequently and effectively with the parents he worked with on the “Abused and Neglected Children’s Calendar” in Juvenile Court, which he calls the most important judging in our country.

In the same vein, Judge Gray worked with the Orange County Probation Department and the Constitutional Rights Foundation to found Peer Court in 1995, which now is held in about eighteen Orange County high schools each year. This is a proactive diversion program that allows selected juvenile delinquency subjects and their parents to be questioned as to the underlying causes of the behavior by high school jurors from a different school district in the presence of other observing students. Once the jurors have enough information, they retire and deliberate upon an appropriate sentence recommendation, which is imposed by a real judge according to the law. If the subject successfully completes the sentence, the original charges are dismissed and the subject suffers no juvenile record or referral for prosecution. Since its founding, hundreds of minor offenders have benefited from this rehabilitative program, while thousands of students have learned the importance of being a juror. While other counties may have a “teen court,” Peer Court has been recognized by the Administrative Office of the Courts for its uniqueness and the low recidivism of its participants. Many bench and bar members continue to support this program by their active participation at a Peer Court session.

In addition to Peer Court, Jim has been an avid supporter of civics education for youth by his participation and leadership in other CRF-OC programs. Each year CRF honors a member of our judiciary for their participation by awarding the Honorable James P. Gray Judge of the Year Award.

No Lawyer Jokes

Jim Gray has long frowned upon telling “lawyer jokes” or using derogatory names for the legal profession or court proceedings. Such verbal debasement by an attorney is contrary to Judge Gray’s view that the legal profession is based on honor, trust, and integrity. Some thirty years ago, he started an Orange County chapter of the American Inns of Court with the sponsorship of the University of Southern California’s law school. Named after Judge Gray’s father, the William P. Gray Inn of Court stresses congeniality, civility, and professionalism among the bench and bar. Many have enjoyed renewed enthusiasm and career satisfaction due to the fellowship of the Inn over the years. As a pillar of the Gray’s Inn, Jim is still called upon to speak to the “profession’s higher calling.”

Publications and Appearances

In 1992, Judge Gray catapulted himself into the national spotlight when he opposed the so-called “War on Drugs.” In 2001, he published a book, Why Our Drug Laws Have Failed and What We Can Do About It: A Judicial Indictment of the War on Drugs (2d Ed., 2011). Praised as groundbreaking and thought-provoking, the book was endorsed by diverse luminaries such as Walter Cronkite, George Shultz, Arianna Huffington, and Milton Friedman. Considered an expert in this area, he has appeared on hundreds of local and national television and radio programs.

In his acclaimed weekly email column that has recently been published as a book entitled 2 Paragraphs 4 Liberty: Solutions That Are Practical, Effective, Responsible, Libertarian (2019), Judge Gray offers poignant solutions to today’s problems and discusses the foundations of liberty. For instance, he highlights the dangerous inequities of “zero tolerance” policies since they remove judicial discretion which, in turn, often results in dramatic injustices and inequities—mostly for people of color. He ends each column with the words: “Be sure to vote for liberty.” This “vote for liberty” message is further echoed in his book, A Voter’s Handbook: Effective Solutions to America’s Problems (2010). His fundamental premise is to prevent the federal government from overreaching and eradicating our liberties.

Judge Gray hosts a weekly podcast radio program entitled “All Rise! The Libertarian Way with Judge Jim Gray.” On the program, the judge interviews an array of people for their insights on today’s problems. Recent topics have included mental health, drugs, education, wars and national security, healthcare, civil liberties, and over-incarceration.

Judge Gray has also written a book titled Wearing the Robe: The Art and Responsibilities of Judging in Today’s Courts (2007)— a “how-to” book for judges or those aspiring to become judges. In this book, Judge Gray provides his practical knowledge about being a judge, but the heart of the book is to convey a judge’s unique powers to “intelligently resolve disputes and artfully change lives.”

Gray Matters: Brain and Heart

The “gray matter” of our brain is associated with intelligence, emotions, and sensory perceptions. It also correlates to creativity and problem solving. And Judge Gray optimizes all of his “gray matter” powers through his work and outreach to others.

Judge Gray has beneficially touched countless lives; he is the epitome of a Franklin G. West honoree. A few minutes speaking to him and you will remember the lofty idealist reasons you wanted to become a lawyer in the first place and make a difference in society. His lasting legacy is in the programs he created: Peer Court, Drive Alive, Drug Court, and the founding of the William P. Gray chapter of the American Inns of Court, to name a few.

I believe the more we know about Judge James P. “Jim” Gray, the more the Orange County community, and indeed our nation, will understand that we all are blessed to have this man serving our communities. I could not think of a better honoree for this year’s West award. And, yes, life is good!

Michael L. Baroni is a past president of the OCBA and its Charitable Fund. He founded the OCBA’s Human Trafficking and Attorney Wellness task forces, and the Entertainment & Sports Law section.

with an introduction by ALAN J. CRIVARO

Baroni, M. L. (2020, February). GRAY MATTERS: Judge James P. Gray (RET.) Celebrates Life and Liberty. Orange County Lawyer Magazine, Page(s) 22 – 26.{%22issue_id%22:648205,%22publication_id%22:%2215276%22,%22page%22:28}