WICHITA, Kan. — A foul-mouthed Kansas judge accused of bigotry and racism who cursed at courthouse employees so often that a trial clerk kept a “swear journal” documenting his obscene outbursts is facing complaints that his conduct violates the central judicial canons of independence, integrity and impartiality.
The Kansas Commission on Judicial Qualifications will next week consider whether Montgomery County Judge F. William Cullins performs his duties with sufficient competence and diligence that he can continue on the bench.
According to a filing, Cullins is accused of mistreating employees; fostering a hostile relationship with the county attorney’s office; lacking patience and decorum; exhibiting disdain toward attorneys; and treating some bondsmen with hostility. Other allegations purport he showed bias or prejudice in the courtroom based on race, sex, socioeconomic status or political affiliation, and denied some defendants or their lawyers the right to be heard.
Cullins has acknowledged that he needs “a more effective management style,” according to the judicial panel’s pretrial order.
Cullins declined to comment to The Associated Press on the upcoming proceedings, referring the call to his attorney, Christopher Joseph, who also declined to comment. Several attorneys and others who practice before the judge either didn’t return calls or refused to talk about Cullins’ behavior.
Court documents detail instances in which Cullins directed foul, derogatory language at women, as well as specific allegations of racism. In one instance, Cullins was recorded referring to an out-of-state black athlete as “not even a Kansas boy” and telling a black male resident, “you’re a Kansas boy” — language that could be considered demeaning to an African American man.
Cullins argued in a filing that this was not a manifestation of racial bias and said the attorney who raised objections has since testified that it appeared no racial connotation was intended.
The judge has acknowledged that he curses frequently and “bitches at people to try to get them to correct their ways.”
As his relationship with Montgomery County Attorney Larry Markle deteriorated, Cullins wrote expletives on documents sent to Markle’s office and he allegedly belittled the prosecutor before law enforcement officials in open court.
Cullins has acknowledged in court filings that his communications indicate his frustration with Markle’s office, but denies that his emotions affected his rulings. He contends that the county attorney’s office has failed to file charges in a timely manner against jailed defendants and misused subpoenas.
Markle also declined to comment to The Associated Press on the upcoming proceedings against Cullins or his dealings with the judge.
Cullins was elected in 2006 to the bench in Montgomery County, a mostly rural area dotted by small towns that is home to slightly more than 32,300 people. Cullins served as the county’s chief judge from 2015 until last year and remains on the bench. Before his election to the judgeship, he was in private practice for more than a decade and was the city prosecutor for Independence and city attorney for the small community of Cherryvale.
The five-day public hearing is scheduled to start Monday in Topeka, and could feature as many as 37 witnesses and more than 58 exhibits that lay bare the tumultuous justice system in the rural southeast Kansas county.
If the judges and lawyers on the panel find the charges are proven, they can admonish Cullins, issue a cease-and-desist order or recommend the Kansas Supreme Court discipline the judge or require him to retire. Discipline can include public censure, suspension or removal from office.
Three former court employees said Cullins’ demeanor contributed to their decisions to quit their jobs. One of them, Lance Carter, was the clerk who kept the swear journal that is now an exhibit.
Cullins argues that his speech is protected by the First Amendment and that his cursing does not diminish his integrity or keep him from performing his judicial duties with impartiality and competence.
Joni Pratt said she left her job as a courthouse clerk for a new position elsewhere at a lower salary. After she resigned, as she walked from the judge’s office, Pratt said Cullins “shouted ‘yahoo’ or ‘yippee’ (or some similar expression) loud enough for others in the courthouse to hear.”
The filings do not identify who filed the original complaints against Cullins, but only those allegations that investigators determined merit further action will be included in the formal proceedings.