Cancer claims life of Judge James Henke

Judge James P. (Jim) Henke

Judge James P. (Jim) Henke, for many years the presiding judge of the Elk Grove-Galt and Walnut Grove-Isleton Judicial Courts, died Dec. 28, 2008 following a brief struggle with cancer. He was 61.

He was one of the youngest to be elected a judge, at age 29 in 1976, and barely a year later talk of consolidating the south county courts began. This became the fight of his lifetime, a battle to keep the courts open in the four towns, and he did for 26 years until the courts closed in 2002 and Judge Henke was transferred to Sacramento as a Superior Court judge.

He continued there until his retirement in 2007 where he became a fulltime farmer on his 75 acres, 65 of which are planted in grapes, on Arno Road between Elk Grove and Galt.

Funeral services for Judge Henke are scheduled for Monday, Jan. 5 at 10 a.m. in the Littleton Center, 410 Civic Drive, Galt. Interment will follow in the Hicksville Cemetery, 10035 Arno Road.

James Henke was born in Guymon, Okla., and came with his family to this area in the mid-‘50s, settling in Galt in 1957 and graduating from Galt High School in 1965. Always sports-minded, he played basketball and golf for the late Don Nottoli, father of Sacramento County’s 5th district supervisor, and football, track and wrestling at San Joaquin Delta College from which he received an Associate of Arts degree in 1968.

In 1970 he received his Bachelor of Science degree from California State University, Sacramento, and a Juris Doctorate degree from the University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law in 1974. He was on the dean’s list at all the schools.

Before beginning his career as a judge, he was a hearing officer for the state and was a partner in the law firm of LaSalle & Henke from 1975 to 1983. 

When not involved with his career, Jim, as he was best known, could be found on his Arno Road acreage where the trademark cowboy boots he always wore were put to good use.

“There’s a story behind my always wearing cowboy boots,” the judge once said. “My dad brought me some boots from Texas and asked me to please wear them for my first trial. He was quite ill, and died two days before I was sworn in as an attorney on Dec. 15, 1974. So I’ve worn them ever since, both as an attorney and judge, and when performing weddings.”

Judge Henke is survived by his wife of 20 years, Lynda Henke of Galt; children James Henke Jr. and wife Cherie of Galt, Cathryn O’Grodnick and husband Anthony of Lodi, Callie Conroy and husband Justin of Maryland and Caroline Henke of Galt; stepchildren Maryanne Henke of Sacramento, Elizabeth Garcia and husband Russ of Galt and Christie Henke of Berkeley; and grandchildren A.J. O’Grodnick, Hunter and Seth Henke and William Daniel Conroy.

He was the brother of John Henke of Galt and Clayton Henke and wife Cindy of Thornton; and uncle of Heather Farmer and husband Shawn and Amy Radford and husband Ryan.

Remembrances may be made to or the American Cancer Society, 1765 Challenge Way, Suite 115, Sacramento, CA 95815.

Arrangements are by East Lawn Elk Grove Mortuary.