Government & Politics

With a second KC municipal judge retiring, council members must decide whether to fill vacancy

The municipal court building at 1101 Locust St.
The municipal court building at 1101 Locust St. The Kansas City Star

Another Kansas City municipal judge is leaving the bench, and council members are debating whether to fill that position.

Judge Michael McAdam has announced he will retire Dec. 31, ending 27 years on the municipal court bench. He served as the city’s first Housing Court judge, a part-time position, from 1987 until 1990 and then 24 years as a full-time municipal judge.

McAdam follows Judge Leonard Hughes III, who resigned from the municipal court at the end of September. The City Council is set to interview three finalists for Hughes’ division on Jan. 15 and expects to select a new judge that day. Hughes focused on domestic violence cases, and city officials have said that is a priority division that should not remain vacant.

The nominees for that position are Corey Austin Carter, an assistant Clay County prosecutor; Keith Richard Ludwig, city prosecutor for Kansas City municipal government; and Courtney Ann Wachal, an assistant city prosecutor in Ludwig’s office.

But now the council must decide whether to also fill the vacancy after McAdam departs.

At a recent meeting with Mayor Sly James and council members Scott Taylor and Jim Glover, who are lawyers, Municipal Judge Joe Locascio, a veteran on the court, urged the council to move swiftly to fill McAdam’s position.

“We’re not just a traffic court,” Locascio told the group, explaining that the judges hear serious offenses and have several specialty courts dealing with veterans, drug and mental health cases. He said judges in those divisions spend considerable time trying to reduce recidivism among defendants. Also, the court docket has grown this year, with a 36 percent increase in traffic citations.

Taylor and Glover said they were inclined to agree with Locascio that the position should be filled promptly. That would sustain the current ranks of eight full-time judges plus the part-time housing court division.

But City Manager Troy Schulte said the city could save $170,000 by turning its part-time division into a full-time division and eliminating McAdam’s full-time division.

McAdam’s retirement also comes just as the National Center for State Courts is studying the Kansas City municipal court’s docket and ways to operate the court more efficiently. James told Locascio he doesn’t want to fill the judge vacancy until he sees the center’s report. He said he wants to make a decision based on facts instead of just guessing about the need.

Court Administrator Megan Pfannenstiel said a preliminary report should be available in early January, so James said the city should at least wait until then.

If the council decides to fill McAdam’s position, it will notify the Kansas City Municipal Judicial Nominating Commission, which will take applications and recommend three finalists.

To reach Lynn Horsley, call 816-226-2058 or send email to lhorsley@kcstar.com.

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