At today’s meeting of the Wichita City Council, John Todd makes the case that Wichita Municipal Court judges should be elected by the people rather than appointed by the council. Before John spoke, there was some confusion on the bench as to whether public comment would be taken for this item.
Before you appoint Municipal Court Judges today, I request that you give consideration to changing the City’s Charter Ordinance in a manner that would require the election of Wichita Municipal Court Judges by the Citizens of Wichita.
During last spring’s municipal elections the issue of the election of Municipal Court Judges was brought up with no objection to it being raised by any of the candidates. And, the citizens I have visited with about this issue are very supportive of the election process that clearly provides for a clear-cut separation of powers between the legislative branch, the City Council, and the judicial branch, the Municipal Court.
As you are probably aware, Municipal Court Judges have more power over citizens than most people know about. The court can levy hundreds of dollars in fines against citizens, and can send them to jail for up to one year, and surprisingly, there is no stenographic record of the court proceedings.
The perception of a free and independent judiciary starting at the Municipal Court level is essential to providing citizens the assurance that they have a place where they can go to protect their rights and be assured they will receive the due process of law that they expect under our system of government.
The election of Municipal Court judges by the people would certainly help insure the people that their judiciary is free and independent of the influences of the legislative and executive branches of city government.
The election of Municipal Court Judges is the right thing to do. It returns control of the Municipal Courts to the people and makes the Judiciary branch of city government accountable to them. I ask you to initiate legislation today that would allow the citizens of Wichita to elect their Municipal Court Judges. I believe the election of Municipal Court judges is a process that can be achieved by Charter Ordinance under the City’s home rule powers.