James Henke, a colorful Sacramento County Superior Court judge who heard cases ranging from parking tickets to double murders during his 30-year career, died Sunday night at his Galt home. He was 61.
Henke spent much of his career presiding over court cases in the Galt City Council chambers, sitting in the mayor's chair. He retired in mid-2007, after which he devoted his time to his 65-acre vineyard on Arno Road until he was diagnosed with cancer.
"He was a lawyer and a judge, but in his heart, he was a farmer," said Dave DeLacy, a retired deputy district attorney who was one of Henke's best friends.
In addition to Galt, Henke presided in Elk Grove, Walnut Grove and Isleton for 26 years before he was transferred to the courthouse in downtown Sacramento in 2003, when the county consolidated its courtrooms.
Henke fought the consolidation tooth and nail, saying that people in Galt and other outlying towns deserve to be allowed to go to court where they live instead of driving 25 miles from Galt to Sacramento.
"He was definitely not the most popular judge (in Sacramento) because of that," said Glenn Fry, a family friend.
While holding court in Galt, Henke often saw victims and defendants he would see in the grocery store or elsewhere in town. But he said in a 2007 interview with the News-Sentinel that he would always offer to step down from a case if either party wanted another judge.
Funeral next weekA funeral for retired Judge James Henke will be held at 10 a.m. Monday at Littleton Community Center, 410 Civic Drive, Galt. Interment will follow at Hicksville Cemetery, 10035 Arno Road, Galt.
Memorial contributions may be made to www.caringbridge.org or the American Cancer Society, 1765 Challenge Way, Suite 115, Sacramento, CA 95815.
East Lawn Elk Grove Mortuary is in charge of arrangements.
Source: Lynda Henke
"Often I would piss-off friends because some people expected a favor," Henke said at the time.
Known for his colorful language, Henke said he always kept his decorum in the courtroom, with one exception.
"The only trouble I ever got in court was saying 'bulls-t' one time," Henke said last year. "Bulls-t has always been one of my favorite words in chambers, but (almost) never on the record in court."
Galt City Councilman Darryl Clare recalled working with Henke in the effort for court cases to continue in Galt.
"He just was sort of an Americana judge, if there is such a phrase," Clare said. "He would hear your case in the morning, declare you guilty, then have lunch with you or go fishing with you in the afternoon."
Born in Guymon, Okla., Henke attended Woodbridge Elementary School for six months in the fifth or sixth grade before moving to Stockton and then to Lodi.
The family moved to Galt in 1957. He graduated in 1965 from Galt High, where he played basketball and golf for the late Don Nottoli Sr. He also played football, ran track and wrestled at San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton.
Henke said he became interested in law after looking at law books while milking cows for Tom "T.A." Farrell, whose father was a prominent attorney in Sacramento. Tom Farrell kept the law books from his late father in his office.
He was elected judge in 1976 at the tender age of 29.
But Henke's heart was on the 65-acre ranch he shared with his wife, Lynda off Arno Road, northeast of Galt. The house is full of antique farm and cowboy equipment hanging from the ceilings. Some of the decorations include a bridle and collar to harness a horse, two old-fashioned lanterns, his father's old scale to weigh cotton and his grandfather's gas well sign from Oklahoma.
Out on the ranch, Henke had an old-fashioned wooden structure that looks like a wild west saloon.
Called the Red Dog Saloon, it has a full bar, pool table and poker table. The bar and eight bar stools came from an old bar in Galt called Paddy's and The Club, which burned down on Fourth Street, just south of C Street.
Henke also has two brothers in the Galt area. John Henke owns land in Galt and Oklahoma along with the Estrellita Ballroom in Galt's Oldtown, while Clayton, who lives on a ranch in Thornton, has served for many years on the Thornton fire board.
James Henke enjoyed hunting, fishing, flying his private plane and driving his Rolls Royce.
"I went deer hunting several times with him, family camping with them, quite a few poker games," DeLacy said. "He was a good poker player, that's for sure."
He is survived by his wife of 20 years, Lynda Henke, of Galt; a son, James (Cherie) Henke Jr., of Galt; three daughters, Cathryn (Anthony) O'Grodnick, of Lodi, Callie (Justin) Conroy of Maryland and Caroline Henke, of Galt; three stepdaughters, Maryanne Henke, of Sacramento, Elizabeth (Russ) Garcia, of Galt, and Christie Henke, of Berkeley; two brothers, John Henke, of Galt, and Clayton Henke, of Thornton; and four grandchildren, A.J. O'Grodnick, Hunter Henke, Seth Henke and William Daniel Conroy; and two nieces, Heather (Shawn) Farmer and Amy (Ryan) Radford.
Editor's Note: This story was updated at 9:10 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 30 to correct the spelling of William Daniel Conroy's name.