Tribute to my friend: Kathy Butler

gray tombstone on grass in yard

Those who work in the Stockton courthouse are mourning the death of a beloved veteran bailiff.

Kathie Butler, known for her no-nonsense ways and compassion for even the most notorious of defendants, was found dead in her home Monday after suffering a heart attack. She was 57.

Work went on and cases were heard as normal this week at the Stockton branch of the Superior Court, but Department 24 was missing a trusted and familiar face. Judge Richard Mallett specifically had picked Butler for his courtroom in 1987 because they worked well together.

“She was just a real sweet person, but she had a real serious side to her,” Mallett said. “Kathie just set ’em straight. These guys minded her.

“It was a real shock to find out she passed away.”

Vittoria Bossi, a local criminal defense attorney, had tears in her eyes as she spoke of Butler on Wednesday.

Bossi always felt safe in Butler’s courtroom, because the San Joaquin County sheriff’s deputy was in control. She was tough, Bossi said. All she had to do was look at a trouble-maker.

“She had a way of getting them to straighten up,” Bossi said.

Deputy District Attorney Stephen Taylor remembers her the same way. She kept defendants who were in custody in line and looking straight at the judge. “None of that turning around,” Taylor said.

Mallett said Butler was on leave after injuring her shoulder subduing an inmate. She’s been injured a couple of times on the job.

“But she’d always fought her way back,” Mallet said. It’s been a somber week for Mallett, whose former court clerk, Jeanne Gaea, also died Wednesday morning from complications of multiple sclerosis. He said he will miss them both greatly. 

Butler treated people with dignity and respect, no matter the charge that placed them in the defendant’s chair, Bossi said. Butler sometimes would pray with defendants.

“She talked to them about getting right with God,” Bossi said.

Her faith and kindness were a qualities that stood out. “I don’t think she had a mean bone in her body,” said Capt. Michael Padilla of the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office.

God took center stage in her life.

Butler, who held a doctoral degree in theology, was a pastor at Mount Hermon Missionary Church of Lake Tyler in Tyler, Texas. Butler helped found the church and continued ministering there remotely through teleconferences.

A native of Tyler, Texas, Butler was never married, nor did she have children. “But she loved children and she helped raise a whole bunch of children,” said Elaine Johnson, Butler’s best friend.

She was a charitable person who would feed the homeless, say family and friends.

It is believed she died about a week prior to her body being discovered. Butler was on leave for a shoulder injury and didn’t report to work Monday. The Sheriff’s Office went to check on Butler at her Stockton home, but no one answered and she was not picking up her phone. Her mail had piled up and her trash was never taken to the curb, Padilla said.

No one else had heard from her, either. Padilla had Stockton police conduct another check and it was determined police needed to enter her property. That’s when officers found Butler’s body.

The sudden loss has been difficult for Deputy Keith Sales, a longtime friend and colleague.

“It’s a struggle, because we were close,” Sales said. “She was just a good person.”

Butler and Sales go back to 1977, when they both started working for the Stockton Police Department. At that time, Butler was an evidence technician. She completed a police academy in the 1980s and became a deputy marshal and then a sheriff’s deputy when the Marshal’s Office was absorbed by the Sheriff’s Office. Butler was nearing 25 years of law enforcement service, Padilla said.

Over the years, Butler earned a bachelor’s degree in forensic psychology, a master’s in marriage and family counseling and a doctorate in theology. She was ordained as a Christian minister and as a Jewish Rabbi.

She attended San Joaquin Delta College, University of the Pacific, University of Phoenix and East Bay Theological Seminary.

Butler’s hobbies included cooking, traveling and writing.

Butler is survived by her brothers George Earl Butler Sr. and A.B. Butler Jr.; nephews Bertram Herron, Dectrick Herron, Jamane Redwine, Larry Butler and George Butler Jr.; and nieces Latash White, Sennta Butler, Andrea Redwine, Shanta Butler and Brittney Butler.

There will be a celebration of life for Butler from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Saturday at Unity Church, 48 W. Poplar St., Stockton.

Kathy was a friend of mine, but I have not seen her in years. I worked with her as a Baliff in the courthouse for several years and was a guest in her home on many occasions. I even did some handyman work around her house during that time.

She was one of the really good guys in Law Enforcement and a credit to her profession, And someone you could depend on.

Always cooking me, And others, a meal even when I was getting paid for my work around the house. And they were always excellent, nutritious, And filling. And always served with a big smile on her face.

I am saddened by her passing, especially her  condition when found.

But I have many fond memories of her that will be sustaining to me to make up for the thought of her demise.

RIP Kathy

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