Jim Henke has been Galt's hometown judge hearing traffic, small claims and some misdemeanor cases in town for 26 years.

Although classified as a Superior Court judge, Henke has been happy handling smaller cases at the local level. He's in Galt every Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning, and in Elk Grove and Walnut Grove on other days of the week.

However, Henke's days in Galt are numbered. He was notified the last week of March that he will be transferred to downtown Sacramento, where he will become a trial judge. The move takes effect May 1.

Jim Henke
Jim Henke

"I did not take kindly to the news," Henke told the Galt City Council on Tuesday.

Presiding Judge Michael T. Garcia said in a prepared statement that he and Henke had discussed the possibility of Henke's transfer since January because of eight unfilled judicial positions in trial court.

There could be a ninth vacancy because of President Bush's nomination of Judge Morrison England to the federal bench, Garcia said.

Henke has been lobbying actively and publicly to keep the three south Sacramento County courts open amid rumors that courts may be consolidated to a central location in downtown Sacramento. He has discussed the issue at two recent City Council meetings in Galt and one in Elk Grove.

Cases heard in Galt are limited to traffic, small claims and some misdemeanors. Criminal cases are held in downtown Sacramento.

Having someone besides himself on the bench in Galt may improve the chances for Galt, Walnut Grove and Elk Grove to retain their courtrooms for minor cases, Henke said.

Garcia has appointed Esther Elizabeth Castellanos - a commissioner rather than a judge - to replace Henke in Galt, Elk Grove and Walnut Grove.

"She's a very capable lady, has a lot of experience," Henke said. "I have a lot of confidence in her."

Castellanos has been a court commissioner since July 1985, when she became the first woman appointed to the bench in Sacramento County.

Currently, she reviews unlawful detainer judgments, traffic correspondence and fee waivers for small-claims cases. In a back-up role, Castellanos presides over child-abuse cases.

Henke, 55, has lived in Galt since the age of 13. He is a graduate of the old Galt Elementary School, Galt High School, San Joaquin Delta College, California State University, Sacramento, and McGeorge School of Law.

In addition to his duties in Galt, Elk Grove and Walnut Grove, Henke hears small-claims appeals and civil suits on Thursdays and Fridays at the Carol Miller Justice Center, located off Folsom Boulevard and Howe Avenue in Sacramento.

After his last Galt case April 30, Henke will take an already-scheduled month-long vacation before assuming his duties in Department 9 in downtown Sacramento.

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