ABOUT JAY B GASKILL
THE POLICY THINK SITE
Jay B. Gaskill is a well-known California trial and appellate lawyer who served as the Seventh Alameda County
Public Defender (headquartered in Oakland, CA). While remaining an active member of the California Bar, Jay B.
Gaskill left his “life of crime” after serving a decade as the chief Public Defender, in order to concentrate on his
preferred vocation as a writer.
Several book projects (fiction and non-fiction) followed. Many of his articles, letters, and opinion pieces have run in
publications diverse as The Oakland Tribune, The Economist, The San Francisco Chronicle, the journal First Things
and Commentary Magazine, among others. Several of his fiction works have been published (See the Fiction page).
Not long after leaving the county service, Gaskill began a Blog covering notorious ongoing criminal cases. An early
version of the PTL web site resulted.
Gaskill is lifetime student of law, ethics, crime, politics and the human condition. He has a background in history,
political science and the law, having done undergraduate studies in history, philosophy and political science at both
the University of Idaho and the University of Washington, before receiving his JD from U.C. Berkeley’s Law School
His first public letter was published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists when he was a newly minted lawyer (http:
//www.jaygaskill.com/boas.htm). It was a defense of the “reasonable” mind -- as opposed to the model of the “totally
rational individual”. He pointed out that the latter (citing the example of Hitler’s Reich Minister Albert Speer) can often
be “[some]one who has totally subordinated his ‘emotional responses’”. Gaskill warned that we should never allow
“reason’ to become “insulated from the exercise of moral judgment”.
The reasonable mind theme has informed Gaskill’s writings and reflections about the human condition ever
Gaskill’s experiences while attending law school in Berkeley provided a window into the mindset of movement
politics. He studied law during an epic period of campus turmoil. In the lower campus context, surrounded by
Berkeley’s over-the-top partisans of the “new left”, he was an Idaho liberal, a “trout out of water”. He began to
understand that an embedded reasonable mind, surrounded by battalions of angry, anti-patriots, is a difficult place to
But there were lessons. In the “New Left” culture, philosophical differences were masked, dismissed or ignored in a
common cause – a diverse set of dissident students were swimming together in a gauzy, angry anti-authoritarian tide.
A hidden pattern was emerging: Gaskill was an “old fashioned” liberal, a label that years later would pejoratively
mutate to “paleo-liberal” then to the dreaded “neo-con”. He had been given a window into the scary mindset of the
hard left. In Berkeley, the political spectrum ran directly into the Marxist abyss. Gaskill’s nascent political ambitions
were set aside, and he redirected his energies to a legal career and his new family.
These and many other experiences taught him that core morality is fundamental, but ideology is provisional. He also
learned that the dominant media tends to hew closely to an agreed narrative, delaying the release of “off-narrative”
information until the continuity in policy (and the reputations of reporters) can be preserved. He resolved always to
examine the “other side”. The result was a commitment to authentic dialogue, and the realization that such an
exchange of views is the exception in an ideology-driven culture, not the rule. He realized that a reasonable mind
thrives only under certain conditions. It needs a dialogue held together by a common moral framework and a
commitment to intellectual honesty and the art of authentic listening.
This is why reasonable minds are so rare.
After being awarded his JD, he took the California State Bar the same summer and repaired to a job in Alaska while
waiting for the results. He was sworn in as a California lawyer by the Clerk of Alaska Supreme Court in Anchorage.
Jay returned in mid-winter from an icy monochrome landscape to the perpetual spring of the Bay Area. After working
for a private law firm, he was hired as an Assistant Public Defender.
In those days, the Alameda County Public Defenders’ Office occupied a single suite an Oakland court building.
Headquartered in Oakland and was established in 1927 by then District Attorney Earl Warren, ACPD is the second
oldest law office of its kind.
At the time, the trial lawyers trained each other, gathering after work to share room temperature whisky in paper
cups. Stories of judges and cases, good and bad jokes were traded among men and women alike. Many shod and
unshod feet rested on battleship gray metal desks while great clouds of tobacco smoke overpowered the ventilation
system. Gaskill spent many highly rewarding years as a public defender trial lawyer. It was an entertaining,
exasperating, educational career. His long days in courthouses and jails were interwoven with a handful of years as a
civil lawyer and an adjunct teaching position at Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco.
Gaskill became an expert in the field of criminal trial and appellate litigation. His published articles and book chapters
have been widely circulated and read among the community of California criminal trial and appellate lawyers.
While in the middle of a six month long death penalty jury trial, Jay Gaskill was appointed by the Alameda County
Board of Supervisors to serve as the county’s seventh Public Defender. While serving ss the Public Defender during
the ensuing high crime decade, he supervised 120 trial lawyers in six branch offices for the next decade,
superintending the defense of half a million cases.
Mr. Gaskill’s public defender career brought him into intimate, face to face contact with thousands of criminals, and
into lasting, collegial relationships with judges, defenders and prosecutors (such as former District Attorney, D.
Lowell Jensen, later head of the Criminal Division of Reagan’s Justice Department and Jensen’s two DA successors).
Over his “life of crime”, Gaskill established and maintained the respect of his defense peers and high trust relationships
with law enforcement officials. Gaskill remains an affiliate member of the Idaho Bar and an active member of the
California Bar. He has participated as a moot Court judge at his former law school, sitting on international and
constitutional law cases. As Public Defender Jay B. Gaskill was the only official in his unique position who, on leaving
government service, was feted for his “assistance, guidance and cooperation to police services” by law enforcement
(the Alameda County Chiefs of Police and Sheriff’s Association). [Note his Speech to the Sheriff’s Police Officer
Training Class: <http://www.jaygaskill.com/sheriff.html.htm>.]
THE BIRTH OF THE POLICY THINK SITE
Mr. Gaskill’s year-long commentary on the Scott Peterson murder trial (See the Crime page) far exceeded 40,000
reads, including praise from the working press. The traffic quickly swamped the storage capacity of a simple Blog.
His web site, “The Policy Think Site”, was first created as a discussion forum for Criminal justice policy, but quickly
expanded to a forum on the human condition. During the ensuing years it became a virtual encyclopedia of Gaskill’s
and his other contributors' views, articles and observations on the human condition.
The PTS continues to attract wide attention (more than .45 m visitors to date) without an advertising or promotion.
Mr. Gaskill’s published opinion pieces in support of the death penalty (to the dismay of some of his former defense
colleagues and some friends among the clergy) have been cited by law enforcement researchers and corroborated by
recent studies. His support of the death penalty (very carefully, fairly and selectively applied) was a reluctant reversal
of a long-held position, a reversal was based on the accumulation of evidence of a life-saving deterrent effect.
Dismay from former defense colleagues and friends among the clergy resulted. He would say it was one of the
penalties of having a reasonable mind.
A Side Note: Studies cited by the Brookings Institution and the AEI (later suppressed for politically
correct reasons) support his conclusion that the death penalty saves lives by deterring a significant
subset of all killings. That original study is captured on the PTL at <http://jaygaskill.
Themes and Passions
Jay Gaskill’s personal passions and avocations are diverse. He listens with equal joy to the music of Phillip Glass and
Ira Gershwin, Dave Brubeck and J. S. Bach; Merle Haggard and Gustav Mahler; Hector Berlioz and Johnny Cash.
He loves humor and philosophy equally; science and science fiction interchangeably; Manhattan and the western
wilderness irresistibly. He is a student of crime and punishment, good and evil, terrorism, war, and peace, theology
and ethics, politics and policy.
He is able to see a common thread running through the heroic creative assertion ethos of Ayn Rand, and the life
affirming compassion ethos of Albert Schweitzer; an underlying common moral sense in the robust, practical
humanism of Eric Hoffer and that of Dietrich Bonhoeffer; and he detects a common spiritual sensibility operating in
the lives of Carl Sagan and Thomas Jefferson.
Certain themes recur in all his writing, fiction and non-fiction: the faux conflict between spiritual and material reality;
the real tension between naïve idealism and moral realism; the ineluctable struggle between courage and fear; the
conflict between moral integrity and ambivalent timidity; and the recurring fracture between self-confident heroism
and its detractors. His fiction works are peopled with likeable heroes and recognizable villains whose struggles touch
or are disturbed by these same themes. He has completed three thrillers and is always working on a number of other
fiction non-fiction works.
Mr. Gaskill believes that an unifying dialogue underlies all progress that has ever been made in advancing the scientific,
spiritual, creative and political aspects of the human condition. Like Martin Buber, he believes that we mortals are not
the only participants in this discussion. He has enjoyed sponsoring and facilitating discussion forums that bring
reasonable minds into conversation from a wide variety of perspectives.
Works published to date, by Central Avenue Publishing of British Columbia:
The Stranded Ones - The science fiction novel
The Lost Souls Coffee Shop - The allegorical story collection, the new edition is under
revision - Watch for it one Amazon
Gabriel’s Stand - The political science fiction, a thriller
Author Profile on Amazon