When Judge Gray was growing up, moving from Navy base to Navy base, he never dreamed he’d spend three decades of his life in one place – on the bench.
Gray was born at Portsmouth Naval Hospital. His father was career military so the family never stayed in one place for too long until his father retired to Oklahoma City. From there Gray went to Texas where “after ending my not-so-stellar college career with a 1.22 GPA, I received THE letter from Uncle Sam.” After serving in the Navy during the Vietnam War, Gray ended up stationed in Albany, Georgia. (Fun fact: the Navy base in Albany is now the MillerCoors Brewing plant.)
While in boot camp, Gray quickly realized “I need to get an education.” He began taking correspondence courses in the Navy. When he was discharged, he attended junior college where he studied hard and pulled his GPA up high enough to go to the University of Georgia in 1971.
College was a bit of a shock for Gray. “I had no clue what I wanted to do,” Gray explains. He chose a History major, and began to find focus thanks to his mentor, Dr. Phinizy Spalding. “Phinizy pulled George Peeler (Southwestern Circuit Superior Court judge, retired) and I aside and told us we should go to law school.” Judge Gray was not convinced and went to graduate school instead. As he approached the end of graduate school he was trying to decide what to do when he had an exciting week. “On Monday, I received a letter offering me the position of Assistant Director of the newly formed AOC in Atlanta, on Wednesday grad school offered me a Teaching Assistant position, and on Friday I received an acceptance letter from UGA law. The next Monday I was registering for law school.”
After graduating from law school in 1976, Judge Gray immediately began work at the DA’s office in Dougherty County. He loved it. “It was the most marvelous trial experience. There were only three of us and we had responsibility for State and Superior Court, so we were in court every month trying cases.” Gray spent three years in the DA’s office before going into private practice where he continued to litigate. One day, he was sitting with his partners, (including Kenneth Hodges, Jr., father of Court of Appeals Judge Ken Hodges, III) talking about who should fill the upcoming vacancy on the Superior Court bench and Gray said “What about me?” His partners said “absolutely,” so he applied. In 1986, ten years after graduating from law school, Governor Joe Frank Harris appointed Loring Gray to the Dougherty Circuit Superior Court. When Gray arrived home that evening, he found a bed sheet hung in his yard spray painted “HERE COMES THE JUDGE.”
His first day on the bench was a trial, literally. Chief Judge O’Kelly had promised Gray he wouldn’t have to try a case in his first term. At 8:15am on Gray’s first day on the bench, Judge O’Kelly walked in and said “Do you have a robe? We have two cases to try. I’ll take one, you take the other.” Fortunately Gray’s friend, Tommy Malone had presented him with a robe earlier that morning. “I took the bench that first day.” Judge Gray remembers. “When we took a break, I got off the bench and was walking into chambers. I heard the Bailiff say ‘Judge. Judge. Judge.’ I kept walking. Finally the Bailiff said “Hey Loring” and that’s when I finally realized he was talking to me.”
Judge Gray counts the late Judge Walter McMillian, Senior Judge A. Wallace Cato and retired Justice George Carley among his mentors. But the best advice he ever received was from his predecessor, Judge Leonard Farkas. During the trial of a case, Judge Farkas told Gray’s opposing lawyer how to get a piece of evidence admitted. When Gray objected, “it’s not your job to tell them how to handle their case,” Judge Farkas responded “No, it’s my job to ‘do justice’.” That statement stuck with Gray throughout his 25 years on the bench. Every day, his aim was to “do justice.”
“It may sound corny” Judge Gray says when discussing the greatest reward of the job of judge, “but it’s seeing justice is done in both the civil and criminal aspects of the law. I love the diversity of it.” The worse thing about being a judge, “putting up with ill prepared lawyers and having to undo their mis-deeds to ensure justice gets done.” The words of Judge Farkas really do ring in Gray’s ears.
While he was on the bench, Gray was involved in several programs. In 1989, he was one of the first judges to embrace the Georgia Law on Disc, which was the precursor to on-line legal research. He went on to train Superior Court judges on how to do legal research on the computer. “But first I had to teach a class called ‘What’s in the box’ were I taught judges how to turn on their computer and other computer fundamentals.”
Judge Gray was also active with the State Bar Young Lawyers Division’s High School Mock Trial Competition. “I was one of the first judges to precede over a competition.” Gray preceded at the national competition in New Orleans, filling in for Justice Carley as Georgia’s representative, and still has the various things the different teams traded in his desk at the courthouse.
Judge Gray took Senior status 10 years ago. Since then he’s “tried cases from Bainbridge to Elberton, Columbus to Lowndes.”
When he’s not serving as a Senior Judge, Gray is not working around the house. “I’m proud to say I no longer have a lawn mower.” What he does like to do is get together with his lawyer friends to catch up on what’s going on.
He also enjoys spending time with family, his wife, two children and three grandchildren. His youngest granddaughter recently announced she had decided to go to college at Auburn University. Judge Gray, a loyal UGA alum, told his granddaughter he would support her decision 364 days a year.
Does he have advice for lawyers who want to be judges? Of course he does. “Try cases. Stay in the courtroom as much as you can. And listen to what the guy on the bench is saying. Don’t argue with him.”
And for superior court judges? “When you go into the courtroom, take a full measure of patience with you. You are going to have to put up with ill-prepared lawyers, you are going to have to put up with sarcastic lawyers, you are going to have to put up with lawyers who don’t respect the other side or the bench and who are not going to be doing their clients any favors by their appearance. Be patient and remember to ‘do justice.’”