Kevin Gray is running for District Judge for Tulsa and Pawnee Counties. Gray has served as an Assistant District Attorney for Tulsa County for the last 11 years as Director of the Homicide Unit and lead prosecutor on some of the most severe and high-profile murder cases in Tulsa County history.
Gray is a product of Tulsa Public Schools and graduated from Booker T. Washington High School. He was a Presidential Scholar at the University of Tulsa, where he double majored in history and political science. Gray obtained a Master of Public Service Administration from the Bush School at Texas A&M University, before returning to Tulsa to attend the University of Tulsa Law School. Outside of work Gray loves spending time with his wife, three daughters, and house full of pets.
Question: As an attorney you could have chosen many private practice specialties of law, what drives you to public service?
Kevin Gray: While public service is not the venue to wealth, I am blessed to have a wife who is comfortable with that and encourages my public service.
At the University to Tulsa, my advisor, Dr. Buckley encouraged me to experience public service in real time, so I went to Washington DC the summer between my junior and senior year to intern with Representative Steve Largent. Watching him for three months, a man who was not only elected, but famous as an athlete and watching how he treated people, how extremely kind and friendly even when they were making a lot of demands of him was inspirational for me. Rep. Largent showed me that nice guys could be in public service. It was reassuring that you don’t need to be a jerk.
At Texas A&M, where I got my master’s degree in public service, I was blessed to spend time around the 41st President George H. Bush. Again, for those of us who were absolute nobodies, he gave us his time and attention, answered our questions, and got to know us as people. That was, again, inspirational to me for someone like him to be interested in us, just students, on a personal level.
My interest in the law and prosecution developed from my time as a debate nerd at Tulsa’s Booker T. Washington High School. I loved every minute of public speaking, discourse, and debate. During law school, it quickly became clear that I wanted to be in court in front of juries. The single best way to do that was to join the district attorney’s office. Once I got my first taste of being in that role standing in front of a jury and hearing someone say, “On behalf of the State of Oklahoma.” It was an incredible sense of pride and honor to do that and, frankly, it doesn’t get old.
Question: How can those not burdened with a law degree best judge judges up for election?
Kevin Gray: That is an interesting question. One of the things this race has made clear to me is that most people can not identify a judge. If they can, they are unlikely to get past naming one or two. What that means functionally is that judges preside in our counties over criminal, family and civil matters exist in this anonymous context.
In this election, no judge that didn’t retire drew a challenger. Is that because there is great satisfaction or that no one really knows who they are, and they haven’t really drawn negative or positive attention – just kind of existed? Until citizens go to court, you really don’t know, and most people don’t care who the judges are. As a prosecutor who has tried cases in front of thirteen different judges, we want people who are smart, committed, and hold the ability to listen. Judges should spend most of their time listening rather than talking. Voters should look for judge candidates with a history of fairness – of fair dealing and integrity in whatever they have done. Those are the qualities prosecutors look for on the bench and hopefully qualities people will elect.
Personally, I think voters should look at the background, biography and personal story of the people running for judge and come to their own conclusions. People should vote for those they believe they can trust to be fair with the intelligence and work history to capably do the job.
Question: If law professors are correct that justice stops at the courthouse steps and only law proceeds within, how does the public verify that the Justice System contains sufficient justice?
Kevin Gray: From my perspective and experience, the people I have dealt with, like in any other profession, there are incredibly honest, incredibly hard-working wonderful folks that are engaged and then there are always a few bad apples. Sadly, the bad apples get inordinately large portions of attention, but the vast bulk of attorneys I have encountered and worked with – prosecutors and defenders work diligently to provide good representation for their clients. There are a good number that when a motion may come up will say to the judge, “I have to concede judge on that point so let’s move on.” There are many lawyers that I respect that do that. It is an imperfect system with a lot of people trying to do their best.
For myself, beyond the Professional Code of Ethics, I live by an internal code based on belief and faith and conscience and all I can do is adhere to that and hope and pray everyone else does as well.
Question: National examples abound of what appears to be a two-tiered justice system, one for those favored politically and one for those not aligned with what some call the “deep state.” Does such a difference exist in the Tulsa County Courthouse?
Kevin Gray: Transparency and accountability are always a good thing. It is a blessing that we have open courtrooms in Oklahoma and citizens are welcome to come in and watch the process and see the judges they hire and the prosecutors and defenders as well. The public funds this system and the way you get equal justice is by people paying attention. In some of the cases I have prosecuted the courtroom was packed and in others empty. This is a branch of government that is often ignored, and I encourage people to spend a day and watch the courts in action. When they do, I have often heard that they find it a valuable experience – on a jury or just observing.
I get to talk with many who serve on juries, both before and after trial and repeatedly they say they were not excited to get a jury summons. “[They say] I wasn’t highly motivated to come do this, but now having done it – I’m very glad I did.” Generally, people are impressed with how the courthouse operates and how trials are conducted, and the demeanor and respect people have for each other. If more people would respond to their summons and come participate with us which is needed to make the system work or even to just observe they would learn a lot and be impressed with the good work being done.
Addendum: Kevin Gray has also been a long-time member of the board of the Tulsa Air & Space Museum. He now serves as a member of the Emeritus Board. A longtime history buff, Gray has done extensive research on aircraft produced in Tulsa for World War II. His individual research culminated with the discovery of the Tulsamerican, a B-24 bomber funded by Tulsans and shot down off the coast of Croatia. That work resulted in the repatriation of the remains of the pilot, who was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery and artifacts on display in Tulsa – including a wristwatch that was damaged – time stopped when the plane hit the water.