Recent comments by Clark County District Court Judge Darvin Zimmerman have damaged his credibility as an impartial jurist. They also have besmirched the court and given credence to allegations of systemic racism in the region. For the good of the community, he should resign.
Zimmerman has had a distinguished career on the bench. And while nobody should be judged on a single moment, his integrity forever will be questioned if he retains his seat. A judge must be beyond reproach, providing assurances that the cases before him or her will be adjudicated solely on the merits and that all citizens are equal in the eyes of the law.
Zimmerman has violated that premise. On Monday, court officials released a statement reading: “Racial bias displayed by a judge is unacceptable, unethical, unjust and cannot be tolerated. …Until all members of our community feel safe in our court and have trust in our system, we have not done our jobs. We shall strive for a system rooted in equity and fairness.”
Zimmerman’s comments were captured last week on a YouTube livestream as he spoke in a courtroom with another court official. Talking about Kevin Peterson Jr., who was shot and killed Oct. 29 by Clark County sheriff’s deputies, Zimmerman referred to “the Black guy they were trying to make an angel out of.” He said he believed Peterson had a death wish and “was so dumb.”
Peterson allegedly was attempting to illegally sell 50 Xanax pills and was shot while running from officers. An investigation confirmed that Peterson was carrying a gun, and he reportedly pointed it at officers but did not fire it.
Judge Zimmerman’s son was on the scene as a member of the Clark County Sheriff’s Office but did not fire his weapon. An independent investigation will determine whether the use of deadly force was warranted.
Whatever the eventual outcome of the investigation, Zimmerman’s comments are unwarranted and demonstrate a disconcerting bias, a disdain for members of the public and a lack of empathy for a tragic situation. In the video, Zimmerman said Peterson’s father told a police chaplain he felt the shooting was justified but, “the next day, he wakes up with dollar signs in his eyes and George Floyd’s attorneys had already contacted him.”
The dismissiveness of the comments is an affront to the notion of equal justice and the pain of a family. As a Facebook post from NAACP Vancouver puts it, the “light-hearted careless conversation of such serious matters was disgusting.”
It is likely that many people will agree with Zimmerman in questioning Peterson’s actions. And it is likely that many will seek to dismiss the comments as a casual discussion when the judge was not aware it was being broadcast.
But that makes it even more important that Zimmerman be accountable to the community. Character amounts to what you do when nobody is watching, and comments believed to be made in private call into question his basic fairness when on the bench.
Equally important, they highlight the notion of systemic racism in our community. Rather than blatant acts of bigotry, systemic racism refers to subtle discrimination built into our judicial, law enforcement, health care and education systems. It is difficult to dismiss its existence when a District Court judge is caught on camera espousing personal biases he likely would not articulate in a public forum.
That indicates that Zimmerman is not fit to be an impartial jurist. He should resign.