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08/26/07
“WHY WE NEED THIRD PARTIES”
Filed under: General
Posted by: Jim Gray @ 2:04 pm

    

                 

  IT’S A GRAY AREA  (7)

                                                WHY WE NEED THIRD PARTIES

                     

What’s the matter with our government today?  Why has our political world descended into such ugly partisanship, and why don’t politicians more often address and act upon the real issues that affect us all?  In many ways it is because the two main political parties have become more and more alike, and increasingly comfortable with the status quo. 

But there is a way for us to get our political “leaders” again to confront real issues, and that is to allow third-party voices to be an accepted part of the political process.  Comfortable main party candidates won’t take positions until they are forced to, and real competition is the only way for that to occur.

          Historically, third parties have played a critical role in American politics in at least two different ways.  On several occasions, a third party has actually risen to become a main party, although the last time that happened was when the Republicans took over from the Whig Party in the middle 1850s.  However, many times over the years third parties have voiced new ideas that have resonated well with the voters, with the result that soon these ideas were assimilated into the mainstream of political thought.  It is this new blood that has helped to keep the American political process vibrant and responsive.

          But mostly today our entire system seems to be weighted against third-party voices.  The gerrymandering of congressional districts by the two main parties has kept political races non-competitive.  Political pollsters don’t include the names of third party candidates because their campaigns are not covered by the media, and therefore not known to the public.  And the media do not cover the third-party campaigns because they do not get good polling numbers.  So with this vicious circle, it is almost impossible for third-party candidates to break out of obscurity, unless they are able to be self-financed like the campaign of Ross Perot.

          How can this cycle be broken?  The best way is voter unrest, and that is beginning to be seen.  However, a good intermediate step would be to allow every candidate that is on a statewide ballot in some fashion to be a part of every public debate.  Obviously, if there were too many candidates, this format would be unwieldy, and the debate itself boring.  But there are remedies for these practical problems.

          One remedy would be to allow each candidate that is on enough ballots technically to win a particular statewide or national election to make at least a three-minute statement at the beginning of a debate?  This would allow the voters to hear and consider each candidate’s most important issues first hand.  In addition, every candidate with a serious campaign should be allowed to participate fully in every debate.  Most of the time it would be fairly obvious which candidates were involved with serious campaigns.  Do they have a formal headquarters, a paid staff, organized fundraising and a major commitment to spending the time necessary for the campaign?  If so, the voters will be cheated if that candidate’s voice is not heard.

          In the last California debate involving the U.S. Senate candidates from only the two main parties, there was little focus upon the issues because each candidate had staked out a “safe” position.  As a result, there was no discussion about issues like the Patriot Act, possible drug policy reform, a possible amendment to the three strikes laws, viable health care programs, or the present war in Iraq.  Had there been a third voice, it is quite likely that these issues would have been fully and interestingly explored.

          Finally, the thing that would most breathe life into our democracy would be the adoption of the “instant runoff” voting procedure.  This would allow all voters to vote for their first and also their second choices in each election.  Then when the votes are counted, if it is determined that a particular voter’s first choice is not one of the top two contenders, by pressing a button on a computer, there could be an immediate “runoff” election of those top two candidates in which that voter’s second choice vote would then be counted.  This procedure would address both the “don’t waste your vote” and the voting for the “lesser of two evils” syndromes, and would actually revitalize both our political campaigns and our elections.

          There is an old saying that the cure for defects in a democracy is more democracy.  Third parties have a major role to play in our democratic system.  However, today they are being frozen out of the process.  The result of this freeze is quite good for established politicians and for the two major parties, but it is harmful for everyone else.  Third party candidates have much to add to the free-flow of ideas.  If their voices are stifled, democracy loses.

                                              

 

 

                James P. Gray has been a trial judge in Orange County since 1983, has written books entitled Why Our Drug Laws Have Failed and What We Can Do About It, and Wearing the Robe – The Art and Responsibility of Judging, and composed a musical entitled “Americans All.”

1 comment
“Fender-Bender Justice”
Filed under: General
Posted by: Jim Gray @ 1:36 pm

                                                        It’s A Gray Area   (7)
                                                     “Fender-Bender Justice”        

            Here is a suggested improvement for the Civil Justice System: take all automobile collision cases with a value of less than $50,000 out of the trial courts and in its place implement either a no-fault insurance system or a program of mandatory arbitration. 

            To explain, under a no-fault insurance system if I was, for example, involved in a automobile collision with you, my insurance company would pay up to my policy limits for my auto repairs, medical expenses, loss of income, and pain and suffering based upon an established schedule, and your insurance company would pay for yours – regardless of who was at fault in the collision.  Of course, if one of us chose not to have insurance, that person would not receive a recovery at all.  (Sounds fair to me.)

            The negatives of this approach would be that the people who were negligent would “escape” being required to pay for the damages caused by their negligence.  An additional negative would be that we would lose our present right to have the issues of liability and damages decided by a judge or a jury of our peers.

            But in my mind the benefits of this approach would far outweigh these negatives.  The most obvious benefit would be that people would no longer be forced to pay 33 to 40 percent or more of their recovery to their attorney.  As a practical matter some claimants might receive a smaller gross payment for their damages.  But considering that they will not be paying the costs of filing fees in court, depositions, expert witnesses and for their attorney time for investigation, negotiation with the other sides and preparing for and actually litigating the trial, and that their insurance rates would be appreciably reduced, most people will come out way ahead.  In addition, the payments will also come to the injured parties much more quickly than they do under our present system.

              Under today’s system, injured drivers have many reasons to delay their medical recovery, because the more injured a person remains at the time of trial, the greater likelihood of a larger recovery.  No-fault insurance would appreciably reduce this problem.  And today in many ways it is hard to justify the use of a courtroom and staff, and to require numbers of jurors to take about three days out of their personal or professional lives, to sit and listen to another “fender bender” that couldn’t be settled because the plaintiff was demanding $5,000 and the defense was only willing to offer $4,250. 

            I will never forget one morning as I was driving to our parking garage, I saw a fairly young man with a neck brace walking on crutches toward the main entrance of the courthouse, and it was obvious from the expression on his face that he was in substantial pain.  However, when I left the courthouse at noon for a lunch meeting, I happened to see the same fellow again.  But this time his neck brace was off and his crutches were tucked under his arm as he was briskly walking away.  Very likely he had received his settlement agreement, so now the game was over.   

            At this time twelve states in our country plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and all of Canada have some form of a no-fault insurance system in place.  Some of them incorporate reasonable variations in which the standard system of fault is retained for situations in which there are severe injuries or damages greater than a threshold amount, such as $50,000 in New York.  Others retain the fault system when the collision involves egregious conduct like reckless driving or driving under the influence of alcohol or other drugs, and the no-fault system does not apply when pedestrians are involved.  In addition and all importantly, states still retain their laws allowing suits against insurance companies for any bad faith conduct, which is necessary to keep insurance companies behaving responsibly. 

            In fairness it should also be pointed out that Colorado had a no-fault system in place for 30 years until it was repealed in July of 2003.  But that system required people to have minimum coverage of $130,000, which many people either could not afford or did not want, particularly since the average claim was for about $7,800, and 96 percent of the claims were under $25,000.  In addition, Colorado required insurance companies to pay for all “reasonable” treatments of pain, which were often found to include hot tubs, treadmills and even fish tanks for vision therapy.  And, if parties could meet the threshold of only $2,500 in medical expenses, they could still bring a lawsuit against the at-fault driver’s insurance company for their pain and suffering.  All of this resulted in Colorado having the eighth highest insurance premiums in the country.  But most other states and Canada have been able to avoid these difficulties.

            An alternative to the no-fault insurance plan would be for insurance companies and their policyholders to agree in advance to use a system of binding arbitration for cases that had a potential value below a specified amount, such as $50,000.  This would be accompanied by an agreement for the plaintiff’s attorneys to cap their contingency fee participation at 25 percent, and a penalty for plaintiffs who went to trial and obtained a judgment for less than that specified amount. 

                     

            In California generally no one is winning in standard automobile collision cases except the attorneys.  So why not put our heads together and come up with something that works for the rest of us?  No system is free from problems, and it doesn’t matter to me as a judge, because if I don’t try these cases I will try some other ones – we are not hurting for business.  But in my view both of these alternative systems would be much more effective than what we are doing today.  So I just thought you would like to know.

            If you agree with these suggestions, contact your elected representatives in Sacramento, and suggest they implement one of these changes.  Your efforts could put appropriate reimbursement money into the pockets of the people who were injured, substantially reduce your insurance rates, allow courts to be more readily available for other types of disputes, and save lots of potential jurors a great deal of time.

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It’s A Gray Area
Filed under: General
Posted by: Jim Gray @ 1:34 pm

                                                        It’s A Gray Area   (6)
                                                     “Fender-Bender Justice”        

            Here is a suggested improvement for the Civil Justice System: take all automobile collision cases with a value of less than $50,000 out of the trial courts and in its place implement either a no-fault insurance system or a program of mandatory arbitration. 

            To explain, under a no-fault insurance system if I was, for example, involved in a automobile collision with you, my insurance company would pay up to my policy limits for my auto repairs, medical expenses, loss of income, and pain and suffering based upon an established schedule, and your insurance company would pay for yours – regardless of who was at fault in the collision.  Of course, if one of us chose not to have insurance, that person would not receive a recovery at all.  (Sounds fair to me.)

            The negatives of this approach would be that the people who were negligent would “escape” being required to pay for the damages caused by their negligence.  An additional negative would be that we would lose our present right to have the issues of liability and damages decided by a judge or a jury of our peers.

            But in my mind the benefits of this approach would far outweigh these negatives.  The most obvious benefit would be that people would no longer be forced to pay 33 to 40 percent or more of their recovery to their attorney.  As a practical matter some claimants might receive a smaller gross payment for their damages.  But considering that they will not be paying the costs of filing fees in court, depositions, expert witnesses and for their attorney time for investigation, negotiation with the other sides and preparing for and actually litigating the trial, and that their insurance rates would be appreciably reduced, most people will come out way ahead.  In addition, the payments will also come to the injured parties much more quickly than they do under our present system.

              Under today’s system, injured drivers have many reasons to delay their medical recovery, because the more injured a person remains at the time of trial, the greater likelihood of a larger recovery.  No-fault insurance would appreciably reduce this problem.  And today in many ways it is hard to justify the use of a courtroom and staff, and to require numbers of jurors to take about three days out of their personal or professional lives, to sit and listen to another “fender bender” that couldn’t be settled because the plaintiff was demanding $5,000 and the defense was only willing to offer $4,250. 

            I will never forget one morning as I was driving to our parking garage, I saw a fairly young man with a neck brace walking on crutches toward the main entrance of the courthouse, and it was obvious from the expression on his face that he was in substantial pain.  However, when I left the courthouse at noon for a lunch meeting, I happened to see the same fellow again.  But this time his neck brace was off and his crutches were tucked under his arm as he was briskly walking away.  Very likely he had received his settlement agreement, so now the game was over.   

            At this time twelve states in our country plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and all of Canada have some form of a no-fault insurance system in place.  Some of them incorporate reasonable variations in which the standard system of fault is retained for situations in which there are severe injuries or damages greater than a threshold amount, such as $50,000 in New York.  Others retain the fault system when the collision involves egregious conduct like reckless driving or driving under the influence of alcohol or other drugs, and the no-fault system does not apply when pedestrians are involved.  In addition and all importantly, states still retain their laws allowing suits against insurance companies for any bad faith conduct, which is necessary to keep insurance companies behaving responsibly. 

            In fairness it should also be pointed out that Colorado had a no-fault system in place for 30 years until it was repealed in July of 2003.  But that system required people to have minimum coverage of $130,000, which many people either could not afford or did not want, particularly since the average claim was for about $7,800, and 96 percent of the claims were under $25,000.  In addition, Colorado required insurance companies to pay for all “reasonable” treatments of pain, which were often found to include hot tubs, treadmills and even fish tanks for vision therapy.  And, if parties could meet the threshold of only $2,500 in medical expenses, they could still bring a lawsuit against the at-fault driver’s insurance company for their pain and suffering.  All of this resulted in Colorado having the eighth highest insurance premiums in the country.  But most other states and Canada have been able to avoid these difficulties.

            An alternative to the no-fault insurance plan would be for insurance companies and their policyholders to agree in advance to use a system of binding arbitration for cases that had a potential value below a specified amount, such as $50,000.  This would be accompanied by an agreement for the plaintiff’s attorneys to cap their contingency fee participation at 25 percent, and a penalty for plaintiffs who went to trial and obtained a judgment for less than that specified amount. 

                     

            In California generally no one is winning in standard automobile collision cases except the attorneys.  So why not put our heads together and come up with something that works for the rest of us?  No system is free from problems, and it doesn’t matter to me as a judge, because if I don’t try these cases I will try some other ones – we are not hurting for business.  But in my view both of these alternative systems would be much more effective than what we are doing today.  So I just thought you would like to know.

            If you agree with these suggestions, contact your elected representatives in Sacramento, and suggest they implement one of these changes.  Your efforts could put appropriate reimbursement money into the pockets of the people who were injured, substantially reduce your insurance rates, allow courts to be more readily available for other types of disputes, and save lots of potential jurors a great deal of time.

 

                                                                                                                  Judge James P. Gray is the composer of the

                                                                                                                  high school musical “Americans All.”

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Synopsis of the musical “Americans All”
Filed under: General
Posted by: Jim Gray @ 1:29 pm

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SYNOPSIS OF “AMERICANS ALL

 

 

            After the Overture, Act I, Scene I is set in the kitchen or family room of a male high school teacher’s house on the first day of school.  Teacher and his wife discuss the upcoming day in which the teacher wants to help his students expand their horizons and live fuller lives.  He explains by singing “How Can I Help Them to Be?”

 

            Act I, Scene II in the high school classroom with all of the students present but before the arrival of teacher.  The basketball jock talks with his classmates about how unimportant an education is because he is going to “make it” in basketball.  He explains by singing the rap song “Who Cares?” and is joined by his classmates.  But he is also joined in the number by “Smart Guy,” who is a nerdish student who loves to learn, and he recites the accomplishments of the U.S. presidents in chronological order. 

 

            Then teacher enters the classroom, and while talking sees a student drop some trash on the floor.  This action is converted into the song “Pick It Up” by the teacher and the class, which not only discusses picking up the trash in one’s life, but also your spirits, your attitude and even your friends.  After this a “lady’s man” or “man’s woman” tells the teacher that it is fine to “eschew mediocrity” and things like that, but what really gets the eye of the ladies or the men is how you walk and talk and how you strut your stuff, which turns into the song “You Gotta Have Style,” which is joined by the class and the teacher, who also shows the class that your style is inside, and that it is stylish to work, etc.

 

            One other student then sings the song “Do You Know Their Names?” which addresses the numbers of people in our society who are custodians, wait on our tables or have mental disabilities, and who blend into the background and are ignored.  Then, while the teacher is spreading his “pearls of wisdom,” two students drift to stage left and stage right and daydream about their future, singing the song “Every Day.”  The female student dreams about her future and how she will be able to make her life “count,” but in the meantime feels all alone.  The male student dreams about finding someone, because inside he is handsome and he is strong, but until he finds her he also feels all alone.

 

            To end the first act, the teacher sings the lesson that “It Just Takes One” with regard to things like finding a college, finding a profession and finding a mate.  And also it just takes one bad move to lose your life or critically injure yourself or others.  Act I culminates with the song “The Dream Lives On,” and which reprises the song “Every Day,” in which the entire class sings that if you are a real friend, you are never really alone.

 

            After the Overture, Act II opens once again in the teacher’s house, where the wife feels her husband is so wrapped up in his students that she is being ignored.  Teacher is concerned and asks for a further explanation.  So wife sings “Love Is Not Enough,” in which she says that it is not enough just to have your love, what I really need is you.  This song gets teacher’s attention, and ends with them both singing about the importance of family, and then further evolves into teacher singing about his love for his wife in the song “It’s Been a Long Long Way to You.”

 

            Act II, Scene 2 addresses the class’ project of “Project Pro-ject,” in which the class is required to demonstrate the concept that anything that is worth doing is worth doing well.  It begins with one student reading about a history of a flush toilet in the stammering and boring way that most students read.  Then the second student “pro-jects” by reading the same passage with enthusiasm and interest.

 

            At this point, the class gets into an assignment to sing about the concept of peace in different countries and cultures around the world.  First a student sings a song about things that take away from peace in a song entitled “Hate Spoils the Sauce.”  Then students from a Mexican, then Jewish and then Arab heritages sing about the concept of peace in songs entitled “Viva El Trabajo y la Paz,” “Live, Love, Laugh, Shalom!” and “Salam,” and as the last of these songs is ending, all of these students join together in a folkdance, arm in arm.

 

            At this point, Smart Guy gives a presentation about the importance of staying in school and getting an education.  Among other things, people will pay themselves over the course of their lifetimes a minimum of $117 per hour for every hour spent in high school if they only stay in school long enough to graduate, and then that pay more than doubles if they get a college degree!  At this point the class realizes that it is “Smart Guy’s” birthday, and join in singing their salutations to him/her in the song “Happy Happy Birthday.”

 

            Project Pro-ject draws to a close as part of the class sets forth the type of life they want to live in a poem entitled “Cast A Glance Around You.”  Then teacher steps forward and talks to the class about how so many people in our world have become “victims,” and accents that by having the class join him in the song “Playin’ the Blame Game.”

 

            The class ends with all of the students singing a song that some of them have written about what it is to be an American in the song entitled “We Call Ourselves Americans.”  That is followed by a curtain call, with the participants taking their bows while the cast sings a short passage from the songs that they sang, and then comes the Finale, as the entire ensemble sings the song “Americans All.”

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