A courthouse in Merced, California, will now bear the name of Harvard Law School emeritus professor Charles J. Ogletree Jr. following a ceremony hosted by the Superior Court of California, County of Merced, Feb. 17.
The renaming ceremony recognized Ogletree, a Merced native, for his contributions to civil rights and legal education.
California Governor Gavin Newsom signed California Assembly Bill 2268 on Sept. 18, 2022, which officially renamed the courthouse. In collaboration with the NAACP, former California assemblymember Adam C. Gray introduced the bill one year ago.
After graduating from HLS in 1978, Ogletree embarked on his career as a public defender in Washington, eventually becoming deputy director of the District of Columbia Public Defender Service. He later established a private practice, during which he represented law professor Anita Hill when she accused then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment.
He returned to the Law School as a professor in 1985, where he founded both the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice and the Criminal Justice Institute. Ogletree, who taught and mentored former President Barack Obama, was previously honored by the Law School in October 2017 with a professorship endowed in his name.
Members of Ogletree’s family, prominent Merced legal and political figures, and local academics — including University of California Merced Chancellor Juan Sánchez Muñoz — attended the naming ceremony.
“He can receive all kinds of national and international recognition, but for him to be recognized by our hometown, it’s special. It’s just special,” the professor’s brother Richard Ogletree said at the event, according to the Fresno Bee.
The event also featured a recorded video message from House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.).
“Throughout his life and throughout his legal journey, Professor Ogletree has been an incredible force of nature, a dynamic public servant who has advanced the law for social justice, civil rights, civil liberties and tolerance in our society like none other,” Jeffries said.
Ogletree, who retired in 2020 after a 2016 Alzheimer’s diagnosis, was not in attendance at the event.
His former client, Hill, sent a message to the Ogletree family after the courthouse’s christening, according to the Merced County Times.
“As this naming ceremony takes place during Black History Month, we are reminded that, for generations to come, the courthouse should and must always be a place where fairness and equal justice prevail,” Hill said.