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Chief Judge Merlin Wheeler to retire from 5th Judicial District

TOPEKA—Chief Judge Merlin Wheeler will retire September 3 after serving 32 years in the 5th Judicial District.   
The 5th Judicial District is composed of Chase and Lyon counties.
Wheeler graduated from Dodge City Community College, Emporia State University, and Washburn University School of Law. Before becoming a judge, he served as city attorney for Emporia and in 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, Wheeler has implemented a child visitation and exchange center, citizens review board, child advocacy center, and multidisciplinary teams. In 2013, he served as the Kansas judiciary delegate to the National Governors Association three-branch initiative on child welfare.   
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.” 
Wheeler is a member of the executive committee of the Kansas District Judges Association and served as co-chair of its legislative committee. 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.

He is a Leadership Kansas graduate.   
Wheeler thanks his wife of 50 years, Deborah, and their daughter, Kristen, for supporting him during his time as a judge. In retirement, 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.   
District judges in the 5th Judicial District are appointed through a merit selection process. State statute requires a nominating commission to accept nominations, interview nominees, and forward names of finalists to the governor, who appoints a replacement. After serving one year in office, the new judge must stand for a retention vote in the next general election to remain in the position. If retained, the incumbent will serve a four-year term.