Chase, Lyon Co. Chief Judge to retire after 32-year career

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FILE(USAF / Joshua Magbanua)
Published: Aug. 10, 2022 at 11:49 AM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - The Chief Judge in Chase and Lyon counties will retire following a 32-year career helping keep the community safe and fair.

Kansas Courts says Chief Judge Merlin Wheeler will retire on Sept. 3, following 32 years of service to the 5th Judicial District, which includes Chase and Lyon counties.

The Court noted that Wheeler earned degrees from Dodge City Community College, Emporia State University and Washburn University School of Law. Before he became a judge, he also held the title of the city attorney and held a private practice. He was appointed district judge in 1990 and chief judge in 1997.

“I believe attorneys should be involved in community activities and organizations as a form of public service,” said Wheeler. “For me, becoming a judge was a natural progression from being involved in various service activities to becoming a public servant.”

As Chief Judge, the Court indicated that Wheeler implemented a child visitation and exchange center, citizens review board, child advocacy center, and multidisciplinary teams.

In 2013, the Court said Wheeler served as the Kansas judiciary delegate to the National Governors Association’s three-branch initiative on child welfare.

The Court noted that Wheeler has also been assigned to hear cases with the Kansas Supreme Court, the Kansas Court of Appeals and in several judicial districts outside his own.

“While our more sensational cases merit a great deal of attention, I wish there was a greater understanding of the role the judicial branch has in the lives of all people,” said Wheeler. “We make decisions that directly affect the litigants that also impact the lives of many others in similar situations.”

According to the Court, Wheeler is a member of the executive committee of the Kansas District Judges Association and served as co-chair of its legislative committee. His past activities also include:

  • National Teachers Hall of Fame, founding director, board of directors, and induction committee chair;
  • Emporia Area Chamber of Commerce, board of directors chair;
  • United Way of the Flint Hills, budget committee chair, drive chair, and steering committee;
  • Lyon-Chase County Bar Association, past president;
  • Hi-Noon Kiwanis Club, past president;
  • Kansas Bar Association, past president of corporation, business, and banking law section, and special committee on local bar associations chair; and
  • Kansas Chamber of Commerce and Industry board of directors

The Court noted that Wheeler is also a Leadership Kansas graduate.

Wheeler has thanked his wife of half a century, Deborah, and their daughter, Kristen, for their support during his time as a judge. In retirement, he said he plans to travel and enjoy time with his granddaughter. He will also serve as a senior judge and work on an as-needed basis in district and appellate courts.

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