It was a great week for representation in Kansas City with two Black females becoming judges in Kansas City and one sitting judge being selected for an administrative role.  

Judge Shayla Marshall

The Kansas City Council appointed Public Defender Shayla Marshall as a new Municipal Court judge.  Missouri State Public Defender Shayla Marshall Appointed

Marshall worked with the Missouri State Public Defender’s Office from 2011 to 2014 and again from 2018 to now.  At the Public Defender’s Office, Marshall was a district defender, managing counsel who leads a staff of criminal defense lawyers and legal assistants. She also served as the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for the Public Defender’s Office. 

Marshall previously worked for the Missouri Department of Revenue and in private legal practice as a solo practitioner. Prior to entering the legal profession, Marshall was an early childhood teacher for the Salvation Army Early Learning Center in Kansas City and a foster care and adoption social worker for Cornerstones of Care, a contract agency of the Missouri Children’s Division in Kansas City.

Marshall fills the vacancy left by Judge Ardie Bland who left Municipal Court last year for a new appointment as a Federal Administrative Law Judge with the Bureau of Veterans Appeals.

“I am impressed with her leadership and commitment to introduce creative and innovative programs to the Municipal Court, including her idea for a women’s treatment court, to eliminate disparities we see too often,” said Mayor Quinton Lucas. 

Marshall was selected over the two other nominees, Sara Christensen, Lathrop GPM and Beth Murano, City of Lee’s Summit, Missouri. Her first day on the job will be February 1, 2023

Judge Candice Alcaraz

This week, Candice Alcaraz became the first Black female judge in the history of the Wyandotte County District Court, a fact that wasn’t lost on the former prosecutor.  It was a barrier she was motivated to break.  

Unlike Marshall who was appointed, Alcaraz had to run for election to her position.  She ran against an incumbent judge, something that’s traditionally not done in Wyandotte County, and was discouraged from running.  

“There’s a hallway in the courthouse with all of the judges’ pictures and I would just look up there every day and I didn’t see anybody who looked like me,” said Alcaraz.  “I felt like I didn’t have someone, like me, that I could go to for mentorship.”

She handily beat the incumbent with nearly 69% of the vote.  She was sworn into office on Monday.  

Originally from Chicago, Alcaraz received her undergraduate degree from Truman State University, then attended law school at Washburn University. After graduating with her Juris Doctor degree in 2016, she moved to Wyandotte County where she has been working in the Wyandotte County District Attorney’s Office as a prosecution attorney.

She ran on a platform of bringing alternative sentencing protocols to the courts.  

“When I first worked in the juvenile unit, we used to allow juveniles to do community service hours to pay off some of the fees they couldn’t afford. That’s something that I would be interested in doing at the adult level,” Alcaraz told us when she first announced her run. “I want to use a restorative justice approach because not everyone in our community that commits crimes are murderers, rapists or things of that nature. A lot of them are going to be coming right back into our community. If we don’t look for alternative ways in dealing with them, they’re just going to keep coming back into the courtroom … with even more serious problems. 

Presiding Judge Jalilah Otto 

Jackson County Circuit Court announced Judge Jalilah Otto as the court’s newest presiding judge and the first African American to take on the role in the court’s nearly 200-year history.

Otto was elected by her colleagues in December 2021 to the position, which oversees the budget and other administrative functions at the 16th Circuit Judicial Court. She began her two-year term at the start of the new year and served as presiding judge-elect in 2022.

“I am thrilled to congratulate Presiding Judge Jalilah Otto on her historic appointment,” Jackson County Executive Frank White, Jr. said.  “to which she brings extensive knowledge, character and integrity that will ensure effective administration of the Court and fair treatment of those seeking justice.”

Gov. Jay Nixon appointed Otto as an associate circuit judge in 2014, and Gov. Eric Greitens appointed her as circuit judge in 2017. She also served as a federal and state prosecutor.

When Jon Gray retired in 2007 after serving 20 years as a circuit court judge, he told The Star the Black community received unfair treatment in the handling of court cases, including charges, quality of defense and length of sentences.

“Representation matters,” White said of Otto’s appointment, “and today, young Blacks girls across our community will see that they too can break the glass ceiling in whatever they strive to do.”

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Bonita Gooch

Since 1996, Bonita has served as as Editor-in-Chief of The Community Voice newspaper. As the owner, she has guided the Wichita-based publication’s growth in reach across the state of Kansas and into...