Sedgwick resident hopes hometown understanding helps to provide justice

by Bill Bush

SEDGWICK—First Joe Uhlman wanted to be a lawyer. Then he decided to be a firefighter. Now he’s the Municipal Judge for the City of Sedgwick.

Uhlman, who grew up near Benton and graduated from Circle High School, attended Oklahoma Christian University with the intention of becoming a lawyer. While there he started volunteering for the Deer Creek Fire Department. He completed his degree in psychology, but enjoyed firefighting enough to alter his career plans.

That Sedgwick had a volunteer fire department was only one of the reasons he chose to move there.

“I had just got an undergrad and wanted to move back around the Wichita area and looked around all the smaller towns around Wichita and I really, really liked Sedgwick driving through it,” Uhlman explained. “In my opinion, the most beautiful of the towns. And almost just based off of that I said, ‘alright’ I’ll move to Sedgwick.’”

A year or two after he moved to Sedgwick Uhlman became the EMS director and then the Fire Chief, position he served in until 2012.

“At some point you get to an age where you wonder whether or not you can continue firefighting to retirement or not, and I wasn’t sure my body was gonna let me do that,” Uhlman said.

So he returned to his original plan and graduated from the University of Kansas Law School and passed the bar in 2018.

He joined the law firm of Adrian and Pankratz in Newton where he had the opportunity to fill in at judge in the local towns of Marion, Halstead, Hesston, and Newton. At the Sedgwick City Council meeting on June 1, 2020, Mayor Bryan Chapman nominated Uhlman for the position of Municipal Judge and the council unanimously approved his appointment.

Uhlman said he’s not aware of any specific training requirement to be a judge, but added that it takes a different perspective.

“Preparation is largely around just changing your mind set,” Uhlman said. “As a lawyer you take a vision for your client regardless of what you may think about a situation personally, and try to get your client the best result. But when you’re a judge, you have to step back. You’re not advocating anymore, you’re trying to get to the truth of the matter. It’s a very different outlook and decision-making process when you’re in that role.”

Uhlman thinks his being a Sedgwick resident will be beneficial for his role as judge. He said that small town communities have their own rhythm, internal culture, and history and having a judge who understands those aspects of a town can lead to outcomes that are better for the community and more in line with what the community expects.

From his perspective, the city’s administration appears to be well run. He said that Court Clerk Shelia Agee, knows what’s going on and has done a fantastic job.

“I’ve just been blown away by how well prepared she is,” Uhlman said. “She certainly makes my job much easier to have her in that role and I think she probably deserves a little bit of credit where she may not get it otherwise. People probably don’t even know she’s in that spot but she seems to be just a real asset in that role that you may not expect to see at a small town.”

Uhlman said that Andrian and Pankratz is largely involved in civil litigation, things like trust and estate planning, wills and powers of attorney, and water law cases. He believes he’s fortunately they hired him and is looking forward to a long career with his firm.