Judge Jim Gray (ret.) is running with Gov. Gary Johnson as the Libertarian Party’s Vice Presidential nominee. Judge Gray made an unprecedented move in 1992 by coming out against the drug war as a sitting judge in Orange County, California. He and Gov. Johnson actually co-star in a documentary entitled American Drug War: The Last White Hope (2007), along with other prominent political figures such as Ron Paul, Dennis Kucinich, Ralph Nader, and Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Judge Gray took a few minutes out of his schedule to speak with me on Sunday afternoon.
Interview with Judge Jim Gray:
Craig Schlesinger: What’s been your general impression while out on the stump, particularly at the college campuses? Is it leaving you with encouragement for the future of the liberty movement?
Judge Jim Gray: We have to be satisfied with what we have. We have great quality, but we do not have the numbers that the Republicans and Democrats do. We don’t have their money and we don’t have their staff to be able to crack the whip and get all these people out. But it’s deeply gratifying when we have our discussions about liberty, about financial responsibility. I was at Stanford [a few] days ago, and there were probably 80-90 students there. I was on a radio show right at the end so I was off for about twenty minutes. Almost everybody stayed. They were in small groups talking excitedly. Several of them came up to me afterwards and said, “I’ve never been so excited about voting before.” So it’s just a question of building.
Craig Schlesinger: Any reaction to the debates held by the Commission on Presidential Debates?
Judge Jim Gray: I’m not a conspiratorial minded person, but this literally is a conspiracy amongst the Democratic Party, the Republican Party, and the Commission on Presidential Debates– which is entirely made up of high-ranking Republicans and Democrats– to keep any other voices out. So it’s deeply disturbing. Who wins? Republicans and Democrats. Who loses? Everybody else, particularly the voters. But we will pursue at least one, and probably two lawsuits after the election is over as a matter of public service just to expose what is really happening here. And I’m optimistic that, number one, people will be as outraged as we are, and number two, we’ll be able to change it and probably put in the criterion that any political party that is on enough ballots technically to win the presidency should have a seat at the table in these debates. And as I understand it, this time it would mean not only that the Libertarians would, but also the Green Party. And if that’s the case, we’ll go to bat for the Green Party. We believe in competition. But what is happening today is simply not what America stands for. We all know the most important competition in our country, really, is the competition to see who will become president, and it should be competitive and not frozen out to those two political parties.
Craig Schlesinger: I know you were chomping at the bit to debate Biden and Ryan. Are you bummed that the lawsuits have fallen on deaf ears thus far?
Judge Jim Gray: Well I was chomping at the bit. [laughs] I’m vastly disappointed. I think that by far I am the most qualified of the three of us running, for all kinds of reasons. I listened to the debates, so-called, and I was on the Internet commenting on them while they were having their discussions. And I know that they were sequestered off going through all of these mock debates. I didn’t need to be sequestered off at all. These are just very straightforward issues. We can tell where we stand, and we don’t need to prepare because these things are simply what Gov. Gary Johnson and I stand for. So I was really, truly disappointed, and it will obviously mean that we will not win the election, this election. But we fully expect to continue onward, and if I have anything to say about it we will be running in 2016, in the debates, and will probably win the election.
Craig Schlesinger: Since you got the Libertarian Party’s nomination you’ve been steadfast in running to win, no moral victories. With the ballot initiatives to legalize marijuana in Colorado, Oregon, and Washington, do you still see potential opportunities for actual victory?
Judge Jim Gray: Yes. In fact, I just landed in Colorado. We are spending a lot of time in Colorado, Oregon, and Washington. I think the polling is good, and if just one of them wins it will be a revolution. Two of them, it will really make a huge difference in the history of our country, so we’re working hard for this. Yes, you’re right, we were always running to win. But we realize since we could not be in the presidential debates that our chances are virtually gone. But we are trying hard to get enough of the electorate to qualify for matching funds from the federal government, and certainly to try to help these various initiatives in Colorado, Washington, and Oregon to be successful. So we have lots to work for and lots of reasons to hope for success.
Craig Schlesinger: The increase in prosecutorial power over the last 30-40 years due to legislatively enacted determinate sentencing laws, like mandatory minimums, have effectively given prosecutors the power to punish criminal defendants who wish to exercise their fundamental right to a jury trial. The founders obviously recognized the importance of letting one’s peers decide guilt. How have we come so far to allow government officials to punish those who wish to exercise a fundamental right, and what can be done to reverse this trend in prosecutorial power and overreach?
Judge Jim Gray: Well this is a huge issue, because first of all, no one– I don’t care if you’re in Congress, the legislature, or if you’re a psychic– no one can decide what a reasonable sentence is without knowing who the perpetrator is, what the circumstances are, how badly the victims were injured, if at all, or any of those things. You just can’t do it. So to have the Congress or legislatures passing mandatory minimum laws does a disservice and injustice to everybody, frequently including the taxpayers. So that simply is not right. Plus, like you’re saying, it gives much too much power to prosecutors, because even if you’re actually innocent, the idea of having to be convicted when the prosecutors are saying this is a 25 year-to-life sentence or twenty year sentence, and you can go to prison for twenty years, but they offer you a plea of guilty to a lesser charge for five years, it’s just enormously coercive. And it’s just not right. Our system is not supposed to be so enormously coercive to push people into abandoning their rights to a jury trial, and the mandatory minimum sentences get that to happen. I think it’s simply wrong, fundamentally unfair, fundamentally unjust under our system, and I think they should be changed.
Craig Schlesinger: Do you view mandatory minimums and three strike laws as assaults on the jury trial provision of the 6th Amendment?
Judge Jim Gray: Certainly. In fact, with regard to mandatory minimums and three strikes, we are very much in favor of this initiative, even in California, to require the third strike to be a violent offense. [More info on CA Prop 36 2012 here.] We have taken a position also, tangentially, against [California’s] death penalty. These are just mindless pieces of punitive action that simply should not be part of our so-called justice system. So I really feel that people are beginning to understand, if only because they’re tired of spending so much money, keeping people in prison for so long. And if that’s what you have to talk about, that’s what we will talk about. But there’s a human issue also, as well as the financial one. Either way, we should repeal these mandatory minimum sentences, as well as three strikes.
Craig Schlesinger: With respect to drug courts, prohibitionists like to tout drug courts. But many on the liberty movement side see drug courts as part of the problem given the net widening effects for law enforcement and how they disproportionately affect the poor and minorities. Do you think drug courts are part of the problem or part of the solution?
Judge Jim Gray: I believe strongly in drug courts. I probably started the first drug court in the country back in 1984 regarding alcohol related offenses. I know a lot of people in drug policy reform do not like them because they feel that it puts a kinder, gentler face on this atrocity of a drug war. But the answer is [drug courts really get people help]. It helps with regard to the addiction problems and responsibility, (etc.). But don’t bring people into the criminal justice system for being addicted. What you do is you hold people accountable for their actions. So if you have somebody that’s burglarizing your house or my car in order to get money for drugs, burglary is a legitimate offense that they should be in the criminal justice system for. Put those people into the drug courts because those are the people causing harm to everybody. But, for example, Robert Downy, Jr.– who is doing real well, and I don’t mean to disparage him– is pretty much a lifelong heroin addicted person. Bringing him in to the criminal justice system is kind of like putting Betty Ford in the criminal justice system for alcoholism. That’s a medical issue. Those people should not be involved in the criminal justice system at all. So this is where I draw the line, saying bring people into the criminal justice system for their actions, not what they put in their bodies. But if they are drug addicted, put them into drug courts, and that’s where I stand.
Craig Schlesinger: Earlier you mentioned 2016. Have you and Gov. Johnson had any conversations regarding 2016?
Judge Jim Gray: I have not had a conversation with Gov. Johnson on that. We’re still running to win this election, certainly trying to get at least enough– and I’ll be appalled if we don’t get enough– votes to qualify for federal matching funds. We’ll worry about that after the election, we’re still running to win.
Craig Schlesinger: Right on, thanks so much for taking the time to speak with me.
Judge Jim Gray: My pleasure, go get ‘em, spread the word!
***Disclosure: I early voted for the Libertarian Party presidential ticket of Gov. Gary Johnson and Judge Jim Gray on October 20th in Davidson County, Nashville, Tennessee.