Judge William P. Gray

Elizabeth Polin Gray was born in April, 1918 in San Luis Obispo, California. Her parents were born in Alma, Wisconsin. Her father was a practicing dentist and a rancher, and her mother was one of the most kind, gentle and angelic human beings that ever lived.

One of the hallmarks of Elizabeth Gray was her unconditional support of her family, and her tenacity in completing whatever she set out to do. One big example was her determination to get a college education, which at that time mostly was frowned upon, and often ridiculed. But she won a scholarship to Occidental College for her freshman year, and then transfered to the University of California at Berkeley, where she obtained her undergraduate degree three years later. 

During the summers she often stayed at school, because she knew if she went home her father might not allow her to return. A dedicated wife and mother, Elizabeth Gray was always in the background helping her family. She also made herself aware of national issues, always coming down on the side of the downtrodden and helpless, whom she supported in numbers of effective ways.

William P. Gray, born March, 1912 in Downey, California, was the president of the student body at Glendale High School, and the president of the junior class at UCLA. He was a self-made man who put himself through college and then law school at Harvard University. While his parents were having financial troubles during the Great Depression, he hired on as a cadet on one of the Dollar Line freighters, and made two round-trip journeys to the far East, After serving in the Solicitor General’s Office in the Army during World War II, he returned to Los Angeles and formed his own law firm, which was called Gray, Binkley and Pfaelzer.

He was the president of the Los Angeles Bar Association and then president of the State Bar of California, when it hosted the entire United States Supreme Court in celebration of the tenth anniversary of the Chief Justiceship of Earl Warren. He was one of the few Republicans appointed to the federal district court by President Lyndon Johnson, and served on that court for the last 22 years of his life.

Judge William P. Gray was widely recognized by his peers as being an outstanding human being and judge, and received many awards, such as the Price-Shattuck Award as the outstanding legal professional in Los Angeles County in 1972, having a computer laboratory dedicated in his name at John Muir High School in Pasadena, and being the ethical inspiration behind the William P. Gray chapter of the American Inns of Court in Orange County.



In 1989 Judge Gray was instrumental in forming an Orange County chapter of the American Inns of Court in conjunction with the USC Law School. This national group’s function is to emphasize ethics, collegiality and education in the legal profession. Jim Gray, who served as president for its first seven years, was honored by the group’s board of directors when it named its chapter after Gray’s father, a long-time federal judge in Los Angeles.

“If the public, through its judicial and penal system, finds it necesary to incarcerate a person, basic concepts of decency, as well as reasonable respect for constitutional rights, require that he be provided a bed.”

Judge William P. Gray, Stewart v. Gates 1978

Bigger Than Life

It is a genuine privilege to be able to write an article for a journal like the Orange County Lawyer about my father Judge William P. Gray: distinguished jurist, attorney, civic leader, mentor, teacher, friend, golf partner, pianist, grandfather of five, father of two, and husband of one for more than 50 years – Bill Gray was many things to many people, and in many ways, he was bigger than life itself. To read the full article, click here – Bigger Than Life.

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