U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson of San Francisco, who has threatened a judicial takeover of the California prison system, was the first black lawyer in the civil rights division of the U.S. Justice Department, says the San Francisco Chronicle. Henderson traveled the South in the 1960s investigating civil rights abuses and getting to know activists such as Martin Luther King Jr. Henderson lost his job when he lent his car to King.
Peter Siggins, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s legal affairs secretary, told Henderson regarding the potential prison takeover: “To say we were surprised to receive your letter is an understatement. We were both shocked and disappointed.” Henderson is no stranger to controversy. “He absolutely comes from a civil rights background — he’s never hidden it,” said Abby Ginzberg, a local attorney who’s filming a documentary titled “No Place in Civilized Society: The Life and Times of Thelton Henderson, ” on Henderson and his involvement in the prison system. In 1995, he ruled that the rights of prisoners at Pelican Bay State Prison had been violated by poor medical care and a pattern of brutality by guards. “It didn’t matter to him that these were Pelican Bay high-security prisoners,” said Maria Blanco of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, who considers him a mentor. “They were being beat up, and he put them under receivership.”