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Feb. 25, 2024

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State judicial conduct commission files statement of charges against former Clark County District Court Judge Darvin Zimmerman

By , Columbian Local News Editor

The Washington Commission on Judicial Conduct announced Friday it has filed a statement of charges against former Clark County District Court Judge Darvin Zimmerman.

The commission found probable cause Nov. 19 that Zimmerman allegedly violated the Code of Judicial Conduct when he was caught on courtroom cameras in March disparaging a local Black man who was fatally shot by Clark County sheriff’s deputies last year, as well as his father.

It is unclear what, if any, consequences the now-retired judge could face should he be found in violation of the judicial code.

The commission said Zimmerman violated the code “by making comments about a controversial incident and the related impending case(s) that displayed racial bias, indicated a lack of impartiality, and implied that he had a personal channel of communication with the sheriff’s department regarding pending and impending cases.”

More on Zimmerman

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Zimmerman has 21 days to respond to the charges. If he does not, it will be treated as an admission of the allegations, according to the statement of charges.

His attorney, Josephine Townsend, said in an email Sunday that Zimmerman is cooperating with the process.

Following criticism and calls for his resignation, Zimmerman retired from the bench June 30. He had temporarily stepped away in mid-March after self-reporting his comments to the commission. His son is a sheriff’s deputy and a member of the interagency drug task force that was trying to arrest Kevin Peterson Jr., who was shot Oct. 29, 2020.

In the hot mic discussion, Zimmerman called Peterson “so dumb” and criticized Peterson’s father, whom he said acknowledged the shooting was justified but then woke up the next morning “with dollar signs in his eyes,” according to a transcript of the discussion.

He made the comments in a casual conversation with a court commissioner that took place in an otherwise empty courtroom; unbeknownst to him, they were broadcast over social media because the cameras and microphones were still live after a previous court session.

“The judge’s callous comments about a grieving family sent a horrible message about the judiciary to the public,” said the Peterson family’s attorney, Mark Lindquist of Tacoma-based Herrmann Law Group, in a text message. “These charges are a positive and necessary step toward rebuilding public trust.”

In the statement of charges, the commission said it received dozens of complaints about the incident in the days and weeks that followed news media reports about Zimmerman’s comments. After a confidential investigation, the commission served Zimmerman with a statement of allegations in May, accusing him of violating Judicial Canons 1 and 2. On July 23, Zimmerman submitted a written response denying the allegations.

Canon 1 requires judges “to uphold the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary and to avoid the appearance of impropriety,” and Canon 2  requires judges “to perform the duties of judicial office impartially, competently and diligently.”

In a March 16 statement issued on his behalf by Townsend, Zimmerman apologized for his remarks. But he was unrepentant in a letter he sent to Clark County Council Chair Eileen Quiring O’Brien and County Manager Kathleen Otto in June announcing his retirement.