Gov. Jay Inslee has appointed Clark County Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecutor Camara Banfield as the county’s next Superior Court judge, a first for a woman of color in Clark County.
Banfield said Tuesday that it’s surreal and an honor to be selected among a group of strong candidates. Her feelings on being the first Black woman to be chosen for the job are more complex.
“It means everything. It means nothing. It’s like a friend said to me: ‘I’ll be happy when we’re able to say that we’re not the first to do something,’ ” Banfield said.
Washington has effectively moved toward changes at creating opportunities for marginalized populations, she said. She credited many of her achievements to mentors who purposefully sought out her perspective.
“We have times when we push toward a challenge, and I’m eager to shine light on the issues of justice. To have the opportunity to do that here, in Clark County, where I was raised, where I went to high school, it’s amazing. This community made me who I am,” she said.
Banfield is replacing Clark County Superior Court Judge Bernard Veljacic, who was recently appointed to the Washington State Court of Appeals, Division II.
Since 2004, Banfield has served as a criminal prosecutor with the Clark County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. She most recently was serving as the office’s chief criminal deputy prosecutor. In that role she supervises the division, manages its budget and shapes the office’s policies and procedures around such prosecutions.
She earned both her law degree and her bachelor’s degree from the University of Oregon.
Clark County Prosecutor Tony Golik said he was expecting Banfield to receive an appointment as a judge at some point, so while he said he was unsurprised by the announcement, it will be difficult losing her expertise.
“She’s been an incredible asset. We’ve relied on her greatly for a long time, and the change will be hard. That being said, she’ll be great in her new role,” Golik said.
Banfield co-founded the Action Reform Committee last year to review and put in place reforms at the prosecutor’s office. The committee’s efforts aim to “confront long-standing racial inequities in the criminal justice system,” according to a news release from the Inslee’s office.
While Banfield has helped lead the committee, Golik said its work will continue. A great number of prosecutors are interested in the goals of the committee, he said. That work continues to move forward and includes increased efforts to incentivize defendants to participate in mental health and drug courts, posting the office’s policies on the internet for the public to view and examining the office’s hiring policies.
Banfield’s community involvement unrelated to criminal prosecutions includes serving on the Vancouver Public Schools Board of Directors since July. On the board, she is a member of the Discipline Equity Steering Committee and the Foundation for Public Schools. She also trains youth in track and field, mentors at-risk youth and volunteers with the local Meals on Wheels program, according to the governor’s office.
Banfield said she will be stepping down from the school district’s board. Although her journey there had just started, she said she was thankful for the experience.
“Whether as a prosecutor or as a resident of Clark County, Camara has committed herself to serving and improving her community,” Inslee said. “I am eager to see her bring this same energy and passion to the bench.”
Banfield was not the Clark County Bar Association’s first choice for the position. According to poll results released earlier this month, members’ top pick was mediation attorney Nancy Retsinas. Out of nine candidates, Retsinas led Banfield (20.65 percent), bar members’ next choice, by 7.09 percentage points.