TOPEKA, Kan. — A Kansas judge acknowledged Thursday during a disciplinary hearing that he frequently cursed in his conversations with employees and attorneys and was sometimes unprofessional in his conduct, but he insisted he didn’t abuse court staff or direct vulgar and sexist terms at female workers.
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District Judge F. William Cullins of Montgomery County in southeast Kansas also apologized multiple times on the witness stand, including for a “slip of the tongue” in once referring in court to two college-aged African-American criminal defendants as a “Kansas boy” and “not a Kansas boy.”
Cullins was the last witness to testify during a four-day hearing before a panel of the state Commission on Judicial Conduct, which is considering three complaints against him. It will make a recommendation to the Kansas Supreme Court on whether he should be punished, and the high court has the power to censure judges, suspend them or remove them from the bench. The panel’s decision isn’t expected until at least late January.
Cullins’ attorneys have argued that his acknowledged frequent use of foul and vulgar language has not prevented him from being a fair, impartial and efficient judge. Cullins said he has cut down on his cussing since the complaints were filed and testified that he does not swear during official court proceedings. He said it’s been a lifelong habit and that he has a “salty” personality that some people see as “down to earth.”
“I was always this salty guy who fundamentally did the right thing,” Cullins testified. “I thought maybe my abrupt personality was balanced out by doing the right thing, but I understand now, not.”
Cullins sometimes choked up during his testimony and several times used a tissue to wipe his eyes. He said he viewed his cussing as a sign of toughness, though he acknowledged knowing it would offend some people.
“I am terribly sorry that my cursing has caused my staff to have to go through this,” he said, his voice breaking momentarily.
A former court clerk, Lance Carter, kept what became known as a “swear journal” and testified earlier this week that he was dressed down by Cullins for about 45 minutes in remarks, screaming at times, after Carter protested a supervisor’s evaluation in 2015.
Cullins was formerly Montgomery County’s chief prosecutor before becoming a judge in 2006. Judges there are elected, and Cullins, a Republican, has run unopposed ever since winning his first primary in 2006, including in seeking a fourth term last year.
He served as the chief administrative judge for both Montgomery and neighboring Chautauqua County from 2015 through November 2018, when the state Supreme Court replaced him. A court spokeswoman declined to discuss why, noting that Cullins’ case could end up before the justices.
The complaints against Cullins accuse him of violating rules of judicial ethics that require Kansas judges to uphold and promote the independence, integrity and impartiality of the courts and to perform their duties impartially, competently and diligently. The complaints allege he abused employees verbally, something he disputes.
His attorneys note that the lawyer who raised the issue of Cullins referring to African American defendants as “boy” believed it did not have racial connotations or show racial bias. Asked by his attorney whether he is a racist, Cullins said, “No.”
“I’m real sorry for the slip of the tongue,” he said. “I know it’s caused the judiciary a lot of problems.”