On Wednesday, November 22, 2023, a Kansas judicial conduct panel ruled that District Court Judge F. William Cullins violated campaign rules during his 2022 re-election bid.

The case is entitled “In the Matter of Judge F. William Cullins,” with case number 2703.

The Commission on Judicial Conduct held a formal hearing on October 5th regarding a complaint filed against Judge Cullins. In its decision, the panel found that Cullins violated rules prohibiting judges from soliciting funds for or making campaign contributions to other candidates.

The complaint stemmed from a phone call Cullins made on April 4th, 2022 to attorney Robert Lattin, who had just filed to run against Cullins in the Republican primary for the Division I district court seat in the 14th Judicial District. According to stipulated facts, Cullins told Lattin about a newly created Division IV judgeship and asked if Lattin would consider switching races.

Cullins and Lattin disagreed on exactly what was said during the call regarding campaign finances. However, it was undisputed that Cullins’ maximum retirement benefits required eight more years as a judge. Cullins and his wife could give unlimited donations to his own campaign but were limited to $500 for other candidates. The judge acknowledged mentioning his wife possibly donating to Lattin’s campaign as a “thank you” if Lattin switched races.

In its decision, the judicial conduct panel emphasized that the rules plainly prohibit judges from soliciting funds for or contributing to other political candidates. It said considering the totality of Cullins’ statements on the phone call, a reasonable person could believe he undertook to reach a particular result by offering to pay Lattin’s filing fees and the prospect of a campaign donation.

The panel unanimously concluded Cullins’ actions violated Rule 4.1 of the Kansas Code of Judicial Conduct. As a sanction, it ordered Cullins to cease and desist from any further prohibited solicitation of funds for or contributions to other candidates.

The disposition reads:

“Pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 619(b)(2) (2023 Kan. S. Ct. R. 541), based on the foregoing Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law, and based on a unanimous vote of the members participating in the Formal Hearing, the Panel orders the Respondent to cease and desist from soliciting funds for or making a contribution to a candidate for public office in violation of Rule 4.1 of the Kansas Code of Judicial Conduct.”

Judge Cullins is the chief judge for the Fourteenth Judicial District in Kansas. He was elected to the bench in 2006 and served as the Chief Judge from 2015 to 2019. His courtroom is located at 300 E Main Street Suite 201, Independence, KS 67301, and can be reached at 620-330-1070.

A copy of the original filing can be found here.