The nature of a courtroom is that someone usually leaves unhappy.
Kansas City’s Housing Court is no exception. But some disgruntled patrons have found the ear of Freedom Inc., the black political club that seeks to influence elections in the city.
Based on anecdotes, and apparently little else, Freedom has mounted an aggressive and misguided campaign to remove Housing Court Judge Todd Wilcher from the bench. The group is distributing thousands of campaign mailings urging voters to check “no” when Wilcher’s name appears for retention on the ballot next Tuesday.
That would be a mistake. Wilcher, a former assistant city prosecutor, is a capable judge who understands how blight can pull down neighborhoods and their residents.
The City Council and neighborhood groups long have appealed for more aggressive enforcement of property maintenance codes. Wilcher pledged to do just that when the council chose him for the Housing Court judgeship in 2012. He should not be ousted for his efforts to protect neighborhoods.
Freedom’s campaign material urges voters to “stop housing court injustice to the elderly and disadvantaged” by ousting Wilcher. It also accuses him of “scolding” people.
The judge is known for a businesslike manner. That’s not surprising; he carries a hefty caseload. He also routinely levies fines against property owners.
It’s important to remember that most code cases begin as a result of complaints from neighbors, and people who end up in Housing Court usually have received ample warnings and opportunities to make fixes.
Some of them are older and lack resource to pay for repairs. These are the people whom Freedom Inc. cites in its charges that Wilcher is insensitive and unjust.
But Wilcher says he gives people plenty of time to pay fines, and refers them to helpful resources.
People with genuine hardships should benefit from a sensible plan that Municipal Court judges approved just last week. Called “time to pay,” it would enable defendants facing fines to enter into a contract with the court to pay 10 percent of the fines within 15 days and then make regular monthly payments until the balance is paid.
It’s good that Municipal Court judges recognize that their job is to enforce city ordinances, not demand hefty payments from people who may be unable to come up with the money.
That’s especially the case with Housing Court, whose mission is to clean up blight, not put property owners deep into debt.
Wilcher understands that mission. He is a conscientious judge who deserves another term on the bench.