Panel seeks censure, coaching for foul-mouthed Kansas judge

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F. William Cullins, Christopher Joseph

FILE – In this Dec. 12, 2019 file photo, District Judge F. William Cullins, right, of Montgomery County, Kansas, confers with his attorney, Christopher Joseph, during a break in his disciplinary hearing, in Topeka, Kansas. The foul-mouthed Kansas judge who cursed at courthouse employees so often that a trial clerk kept a “swear journal” documenting his obscene outbursts should be publicly censured and receive professional coaching, but his removal from the bench is not warranted, a disciplinary panel recommended Friday, Feb. 28, 2020. The findings by the Kansas Commission on Judicial Conduct on Montgomery County Judge F. William Cullins will be sent to the Kansas Supreme Court for a final decision. (AP Photo/John Hanna, File)

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WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A foul-mouthed Kansas judge who cursed at courthouse employees so often that a trial clerk kept a “swear journal” documenting his outbursts should be publicly censured and receive professional coaching, but not kicked off the bench, a disciplinary panel recommended Friday.

The Kansas Commission on Judicial Conduct unanimously concluded that Montgomery County Judge F. William Cullins violated central judicial canons of independence, integrity and impartiality. Its recommendations will be sent to the Kansas Supreme Court, which will ultimately decide his fate.

An admonishment or a “cease and desist” order was not sufficient discipline, the panel concluded. It also recommended that Cullins complete at least a year or two of professional coaching to improve his interpersonal interactions, and that if he failed to complete it then the Supreme Court should suspend him from his judicial duties.

His attorney, Chris Joseph, did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment. Cullins had argued during the disciplinary proceedings 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.

Cullins’ use of foul, derogatory words directed at women manifested a clear bias based on sex — violating judicial rules that prohibit bias, prejudice and harassment, the panel found.

“Intentionally gender-based derogatory references toward women have no place in the administration of justice, and have no place in a judge’s vernacular,” according to the decision.

It also addressed an instance in which Cullins was recorded in court 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.

Although the panel found credible Cullins’ testimony that he used the word “boy” as a term of geographic origin and not as a racial derision, it said the term could be interpreted as bias and therefore violated judicial rules. It noted that the prosecutor apologized for the judge’s conduct to the father of one of the defendants.

Cullins’ conduct also violated judicial rules governing judicial decorum, the panel said, describing it as “not patient, dignified, or courteous.”

Among the examples the court cited was Cullins’ interactions with Montgomery County Attorney Larry Markle. Cullins wrote expletives on documents sent to Markle’s office and allegedly belittled the prosecutor before other law enforcement officials in open court.

His behavior also contributed to the decisions of three former court employees to quit their jobs, the panel found. One of them, Lance Carter, was the clerk who kept the swear journal that was used as evidence.

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.”

While other allegations against Cullins did not rise to the level of a violation of the judicial code, the panel wrote that some still caused them “great concern.” Among them was a letter he sent to the Montgomery County sheriff’s office and to the cities of Independence, Coffeyville, Caney and Cherryvale in which Cullins wrote he was finding it difficult to persuade the county attorney’s office to file charges on probable cause arrests in a timely manner. The panel said it believed it wasn’t a good decision for the judge to take his concerns, as justifiably frustrated as he may have been, to the public arena when the situation could have been handled without incident through the adoption of local court rules.

It also criticized the judge for directing attorneys outside of the judicial branch to perform work on behalf of the court, including telling the county attorney and a defense attorney to look into the conduct of bondsmen in the district.

Cullins was elected to the bench in 2006. Montgomery County is a mostly rural area in southeastern Kansas that home to about 32,000 people.

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