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Dec. 9, 2021

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Former prosecutor James Smith sworn in as Clark County District Court judge

By , Columbian staff writer
3 Photos
Judge James Smith is sworn into District Court at the Clark County Courthouse on Tuesday afternoon. Smith will have to run for election in 2022 to keep the seat.
Judge James Smith is sworn into District Court at the Clark County Courthouse on Tuesday afternoon. Smith will have to run for election in 2022 to keep the seat. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Senior Deputy Prosecutor James Smith crossed over to the other side of the Clark County District Court bench Tuesday when he was sworn in as the newest Department 3 judge.

He donned the black robe Tuesday after working in the Clark County Prosecutor’s Office as the team leader for the Arthur D. Curtis Children’s Justice Center. He was previously assigned to the Major Crimes Unit for more than four years. Before joining the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, he served as chief criminal deputy prosecutor for Cowlitz County.

The Clark County Council appointed Smith to the seat previously held by Judge Darvin Zimmerman, who retired June 30.

“I think we all recognize that we must, and we can do better in the court system, than perhaps, on occasion, we have in the past, and I want to be part of that,” Smith said. “I want to bring my own perspective, my own life experiences, to being able to hopefully have a process where not everybody is going to walk out of court happy, but … people feel that they were treated fairly and impartially, that the decisions that were made were not as the result of bias of any sort of racial or gender prejudice or anything along those lines, but that they were the basis of a fair application of the law to the facts.”

Smith earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology and juris doctor from Mississippi State University.

He said although he will miss being a trial attorney, he’s looking forward to helping people in a different way.

“I really am looking forward to serving in the Clark County District Court because I think it’s a place where you can make a real difference in people’s lives and in the role of the community,” Smith said.

He recognized many people who helped shape his career and thanked his parents for his values.

“I want to thank them for many things, but for passing on to me I think a love of language, a love of learning and of service to others, because that’s always been important in the family and they always encouraged me to excel and do the best that I could,” Smith said.

Court of Appeals Judge Anne Cruser recalled when Smith joined her at the Clark County Prosecutor’s Office from Cowlitz County and the way she urged Clark County Prosecutor Tony Golik to hire Smith when he applied.

“James, I want to say congratulations on this extraordinary accomplishment,” Cruser said. “I am happy, not only for you but for the community that you’re going to be serving, and they are very lucky to have you as the newest Clark County District Court judge.”

Since COVID-19 has transitioned courts to largely virtual hearings, Cruser said she’s glad Smith will be on the bench as the court considers future accessibility.

Golik spoke about how thoughtful Smith was during team leader meetings at the prosecutor’s office.

“James is a person who approaches the job in wisdom, courage and grace in everything that he does in his work,” Golik said. “James has demonstrated himself as a leader in our legal community. He will serve as a wise, compassionate and fair judge, and we will all benefit greatly from his work.”

Criminal defense attorney Jon McMullen spoke about opposing Smith in court when he was a prosecutor.

“When I heard that he ascended to the bench, I started thinking about how bad it was for us,” McMullen said of how thorough Smith was as a prosecutor.

“The silver lining is, we get an incredible judge — there’s going to be no question about that. He’s going to be somebody that treats people as people first and defendants later.”

Smith will need to run for election in 2022 in order to keep the Department 3 seat. District Court judges serve four-year terms; all District Court judge positions are up for election in 2022.

Zimmerman retired from the seat after temporarily stepping away in March following calls for his resignation over his comments about a young Black man killed by Clark County deputies.

According to the county website, monthly pay for District Court judges is $15,843, or $190,116 annually, effective July 1, 2020.