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Tuesday, June 6, 2023
June 6, 2023

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Calls for Clark County Judge Zimmerman’s resignation grow

Zimmerman's attorney says he doesn't want to interfere with investigation

By , Columbian Breaking News Reporter, and
, Columbian Assistant Metro Editor

Embattled Clark County District Court Judge Darvin Zimmerman plans to let an investigation into his conduct run its course, a local attorney said Friday.

“It is surprising to me that we afford due process to all litigants before the court but that we wouldn’t allow that process to work for judges,” attorney Josephine Townsend said on behalf of the judge.

Zimmerman’s comments last week — he was caught on a live social media feed being critical of a local Black man killed by police — have prompted criticism and action this week.

District Court reassigned his caseload, Superior Court stripped his authority to perform any functions of that court, prosecutors sought his removal from all of their criminal cases, and attorneys, activists and elected officials called for him to resign.

Zimmerman reported his statements, which were inadvertently captured on courtroom cameras and broadcast on social media, to the Commission on Judicial Conduct last weekend. The commission has the power to investigate his comments and take action, including recommending the Washington Supreme Court remove him from his elected office.

On Friday, District Court Presiding Judge Kelli Osler said the court “unanimously and wholeheartedly” stands by its prior condemnation of Zimmerman’s comments. She said the bench is made up of elected officials who have no control over Zimmerman, his statements nor his future plans.

“That being said, our District Court bench unanimously agrees that Judge Zimmerman should not sit as a judge in Clark County District Court in the future, and we will take the steps we have authority to take to ensure that,” she said in an email.

The long-serving judge issued an apology Tuesday, at which time he said he would temporarily step away from the bench. His current four-year term expires at the end of 2022. The state’s mandatory retirement age for District Court judges is 75; Zimmerman is 70.

“Judge Zimmerman is cooperating with the investigation that will take place with the commission. Under the commission rules, he’s not allowed to discuss the case further,” Townsend said in a phone interview. “He is aware of the comments and concerns and is listening, but he must also follow the protocols that are in place for judicial officers.”

During his hiatus, the judge is making connections to ensure the programs he’s been heavily involved in continue without a gap in providing services to the public and litigants, Townsend said, such as work on a pre-arrest diversion program.

“He wants people to understand how much he loves his community and how much of his 35 years (on the bench) he’s spent promoting justice and how strongly he feels about promoting justice,” Townsend said.

“Judge Zimmerman has and is reviewing the comments and statements that are being made. … And he recognizes everyone’s right to be heard on the subject.”

More criticism

That criticism continued Friday with two more local institutions — a group of lawyers who help marginalized communities and a chapter of the nation’s largest Hispanic organization — calling for Zimmerman’s resignation.

The Clark County Volunteer Lawyers Program said Zimmerman has failed in his duties as a judge.

The program, which advocates for and provides civil legal services to low-income and marginalized people, noted all of its clients live in poverty, and nearly 40 percent identify as people of color.

More on Zimmerman

Judge Darvin Zimmerman presides over Mental Health Court in 2010. Zimmerman has been a judge in Clark County for more than 20 years.Clark County judge apologizes for Kevin Peterson Jr. comments, will take time off
Clark County District Court Judge Darvin Zimmerman issued a statement Tuesday saying he’s decided to take time off to reflect on comments he made last…
Judge Darvin Zimmerman in 2019.Clark County Superior Court strips Zimmerman of power over its cases
The legal community and local officials continued to turn on District Court Judge Darvin Zimmerman on Wednesday after comments he made last week about the…
Tammi Bell answers questions about the killing of her son, Kevin Peterson, Jr., by police in Clark County, during a press conference at the Aero Club Banquet Room in Vancouver on Thursday morning, March 18, 2021.Peterson’s parents call Zimmerman’s remarks ‘slap in the face’
Kevin Peterson Jr.’s father condemned a Clark County judge Thursday for making disparaging remarks about his son but declined to say whether the judge should…
Judge Darvin Zimmerman in 2019.Clark County judge faces condemnation, call for resignation after comments
Clark County District Court condemned Judge Darvin Zimmerman and a prominent law firm has called for his resignation Monday for comments he made last week…

“In the wake of recent comments by Judge Darvin Zimmerman caught on video, we find ourselves wondering how we can instill confidence in our clients and ourselves that equitable access to justice is achievable in Clark County,” the program said.

The volunteer lawyers program released its statement Thursday night. It said the judge’s comments were not just reflective of a flawed system, but “wholly racist.”

“When a white judge talks about a Black slain man in the manner Judge Zimmerman did, this is at minimum a racist action and we need to call it as such. We cannot trust a judge, with their inherent power, to rule without prejudice when we know them to have these biases,” the group said.

The lawyers called for the immediate resignation of Zimmerman, as well as a commitment from the county’s District and Superior courts to continue broadcasting hearings online, even after the COVID-19 pandemic has subsided.

On Friday morning, the Southwest Washington League of United Latin American Citizens issued a statement saying Zimmerman’s depth of racial prejudice was revealed by his private conversation but noted comments he’s made during court hearings reflect his lack of legal, ethical and cultural competency. It called for his resignation.

LULAC is referencing comments made by at least one local lawyer, Northwest Justice Project attorney Tim Murphy, who said that over the years, his clients who appeared before Zimmerman were repeatedly and unnecessarily questioned about their need for a translator. The volunteer lawyers program also pointed to a years-old YouTube video of Zimmerman questioning the validity of an interpreter request in a criminal proceeding.

If Zimmerman does not resign, the league said, it will take action on its own to have him removed from his elected position. The organization also encouraged community members to file complaints with the Commission on Judicial Conduct.

Transcript of conversation

A complete transcript of the conversation in the courtroom between Clark County Judge Darvin Zimmerman and District Court Commissioner Abigail Bartlett. (Editor’s note: The language and content of the transcript may be disturbing to some readers):

Zimmerman: (Unintelligible) Kevin Peterson, it’s going on five months now.

Bartlett: Who’s Kevin Peterson?

Zimmerman: The Black guy they were trying to make an angel out of. (Unintelligible) The one that was uh said, ‘I’m gonna feed bullets to the cops when I show up, if there’s cops there.’

Bartlett: Which was, was this a local case?

Zimmerman: He’s the Hazel Dell one.

Bartlett: Oh, OK, OK.

Zimmerman: So yeah. He’s the one that said “I’m a racist. I hate white people,” so I guess he hates his girlfriend, too.

Bartlett: Was he the one that was shot by the police in Hazel Dell?

Zimmerman: Yeah.

Bartlett: OK. Yep, yep, yep. Got it.

Zimmerman: OK well, the cops are already back on the road, but my son was there (unintelligible).

Bartlett: Oh.

Zimmerman: Luckily, he got the promotion to sergeant, because he could have been the shooter (chuckles).

Bartlett: Oh my God.

Zimmerman: And they’d be marching out at his house with signs saying, ‘You’re a murderer.’

Bartlett: Yeah.

Zimmerman: All that bullshit. It’s crazy. It is just crazy. Like his dad. His — I know so many people.

Bartlett: Uh huh. Yeah, you know everybody.

Zimmerman: In fact, I know more people than the sheriff knows (unintelligible) about this investigation. So I send him the information I find out about it. I ran into the chaplain who said he did the — whatever you call it — the thing after the fact, consoling everybody, you know, trying, you know, whatever about the deal. And he told me that KP’s dad says, ‘Well, yeah, he had a gun. I guess it was justified.’ And then the next day he wakes up with dollar signs in his eyes.

Bartlett: Oh no.

Zimmerman: And George Floyd attorneys had already contacted him. He has a GoFundMe page that said my unarmed son was murdered by the police. He knew his son had a gun. (Unintelligible). That’s like getting money under false pretenses. (Unintelligible). So he had $70,000 as opposed to George Floyd. (Unintelligible) George Floyd (unintelligible). George Floyd family got 20 million.

Bartlett: Wow.

Zimmerman: So these attorneys just reach out to people; that’s their retainer.

Bartlett: Yeah.

Zimmerman: They’re never going to be a filing (unintelligible), because how can you ever win on a case like that? He’s got a gun.

Bartlett: Yeah.

Zimmerman: But that’s the whole thing now. I know (unintelligible) ask well, ‘Why were you a friend of his?’ Yeah, he was kind of a dipshit. We talked once in a while or chatted.

Bartlett: Uh huh.

Zimmerman: Even friends would say (unintelligible). Someone sent me, it was literally 2,367 pages. I said I don’t want this shit on my computer.

Bartlett: Of what?

Zimmerman: Of his hate mail.

Bartlett: Why’d they send it to you?

Zimmerman: Because they knew my son was involved in the incident.

Bartlett: Ah.

Zimmerman: And the county is being sued. (Unintelligible) ‘I hate white people. I’m racist.’ And other people say, ‘Kevin, that’s stupid to say.’

Bartlett: You got to be careful though, like don’t get yourself embroiled in this.

Zimmerman: Oh no (unintelligible) I said, ‘Don’t send it to me, send it to risk management.’

Bartlett: That’s a good, that’s a good (unintelligible).

Zimmerman: (Unintelligible) But do you know?

Bartlett: Mm gosh.

Zimmerman: (Unintelligible) But do you know? You know, most people don’t. Even in the Columbian article, if you really look, get a look at the movie, they attach the movie, then you see, if you look just for (unintelligible) you see it’s little, because they couldn’t take it out of the description on the, whoever it was, was it Pierce County? Whoever released the first movie, it shows right there it says, ‘If you’re cop, if you’re a cop, I’m feeding you bullets.’

Bartlett: Uh huh.

Zimmerman: So when the police go out there, they kind of know he could be dangerous.

Bartlett: Yeah.

Zimmerman: I mean, how do you feed bullets

Bartlett: Yeah.

Zimmerman: if you don’t have a gun? If you listen to that tape, it’s my son Erik saying, ‘Look out! He’s got a gun!’ You know, he’s screaming. It’s the first voice you hear on that video is him warning them that he’s coming around the corner with a gun.

Bartlett: Uh huh.

Zimmerman: You don’t know who he’s going to shoot. He could shoot a pedestrian, I mean shoot somebody out there. But I think he had a death wish (unintelligible). I mean, he calls his girlfriend to say goodbye?

Bartlett: Oh wow.

Zimmerman: And then she won’t release her phone.

Bartlett: Huh.

Zimmerman: So they really don’t know what texts he was saying.

Bartlett: Uh huh.

Zimmerman: He was so dumb. So another version was he thought he was going to go to prison for life, you know, for one deal. (Unintelligible) a year, he might get diversion, he might get drug court, but anyway, he was calling goodbye, and then supposedly, then she comes out with this false narrative that they shot him, you know, 30 times in the back. He didn’t get shot once in the back, you know?

Bartlett: Uh huh.

Zimmerman: But unfortunately he got shot. They were very, very convinced, and it still might be the story that he got two rounds off, because there’s two bullets missing out of the gun, assuming it was full.

Bartlett: Mm hmm, right.

Zimmerman: (Unintelligible) it’s 20, whatever, it’s 12, 12 shots.

Bartlett: Yeah.

Zimmerman: And then you have 10 in to begin with, then I guess it’s not missing two.

Bartlett: Yeah.

Zimmerman: (Unintelligible)

Bartlett: Right.

Zimmerman: They were even checking the guy. Erik said, ‘I was checking him for bullet holes.’ One guy thought he was shot. His adrenaline was going so much, he didn’t even know if he had been shot.

Bartlett: Oh my gosh.

Zimmerman: But they heard shots.

Bartlett: Yeah.

Zimmerman: So they thought he fired (unintelligible) you see the video, hell, they told him a couple times, ‘Drop your gun, drop your gun.’ And he didn’t drop his gun. He’s, you know, it shows him right there. And his dad says, ‘Well (unintelligible) (laughing).

Bartlett: So your son was there for the whole incident?

Zimmerman: What?

Bartlett: Your son was there?

Zimmerman: Oh yeah. Yeah.

Bartlett: How’s he doing?

Zimmerman: (Unintelligible) He actually met, what was it, he met with one of the guys.

Bartlett: Yeah.

Zimmerman: (Unintelligible) yeah, he met with one of the guys, just to go visit with him. Talk. (Unintelligible) They never released once that one of the shooters was Black.

Bartlett: One of the police officers, or?

Zimmerman: Yeah, I guess it doesn’t match some narrative (unintelligible).

Bartlett: Yeah, oh gosh.

Zimmerman: (Unintelligible) If it’s such a big racial deal, then you should (unintelligible). He obviously thought he was going to get killed himself, he shot him. He was Black. It wouldn’t have mattered if the guy was green (chuckles) is the point. But it’s just this narrative that there’s like (unintelligible) killing minorities (chuckles) (unintelligible).

Bartlett: Gosh. Yeah, every, everything…

Zimmerman: There’s even an article I saw that, I sent it to other people, I sent it to my son (unintelligible) NAACP, and I was (unintelligible) a lifetime member. My first job out of college working at an all Black community center.

Bartlett: Uh huh.

Zimmerman: (Unintelligible)

Bartlett: Uh huh.

Zimmerman: (Unintelligible)

Bartlett: That’s good. It’s good to feel what that feels like I think.

Zimmerman: Yeah

Bartlett: It’s important.

Zimmerman: Yeah, but anyway, (unintelligible).

Bartlett: Yeah.

Zimmerman: I coached and counseled

Bartlett: Uh huh.

Zimmerman: and did all kinds of stuff.

Bartlett: Yeah.

Zimmerman: But this lady, she talks about the Blacks being murdered here in Clark County, allegedly armed, allegedly? (Unintelligible) throw that stuff out there. You don’t know the facts; it’s not allegedly.

Bartlett: Mm.

Zimmerman: He had a frickin’ gun, and they got it on video. And you put this uh, you know, distrust out there in the community. It’s still the same thing. They want to argue that because there’s whatever (unintelligible) 4 percent Blacks in Clark County, but there’s 12 percent Blacks in the jail. So does that mean we’re automatically racist?

Bartlett: Mm hmm.

Zimmerman: Does it?

Bartlett: Not necessarily, I mean…

Zimmerman: Well yeah, it doesn’t (Unintelligible) Three Black guys shot and robbed this guy. (Unintelligible) time in the Clark County Jail.

Bartlett: Yeah.

Zimmerman: You know, they won’t go to trial for a year or so,

Bartlett: Yeah.

Zimmerman: … and then they’ll be off to prison for (unintelligible) years for robbery and shooting somebody, and they pistol whipped him, too.

Bartlett: Mm hmm.

Zimmerman: They were not nice kids, put it that way. And he was a Spanish guy, so is that racist? I don’t know.

Bartlett: Every, every, the bottom line is every case is different. We have to look at the facts of every single case.

Zimmerman: Oh yeah.

Bartlett: But there’s so much anger out there now.

Zimmerman: Oh yeah, I agree.

Bartlett: I just feel like we’re falling off a cliff.

Zimmerman: (Unintelligible) I remember this one lady, she accused, it was after the fact, and she was a Black lady and she accused me of being racist, whatever. I said, ‘OK, I was racist because I ruled against you, but you admit that this brand new Brazilian hardwood floors that she didn’t like the color of it, so you rolled it all in white? (Chuckles) And the, you know, the landlord.

Bartlett: Mm hmm.

Zimmerman: I’m trying to remember what they were.

Bartlett: Oh, is this small claim?

Zimmerman: Yeah, small claims. I said, ‘Yeah, because they’re like brand new, $6,000 for the Brazilian floor,’ and they came in and said they need $2,000 to sand off all of the white paint, and they don’t even know if they can get it back to the original thing.

Bartlett: Mm hmm.

Zimmerman: I said, back then (unintelligible) whatever it was I said, it could have been five, but anyway, you know, so I ruled against the, you know, the other minority couple (chuckles), not because they were (unintelligible) or whatever, but because they were right. She just had it in her mind; I mean she was mental.

Bartlett: Yeah.

Zimmerman: She said it was too depressing to have the dark floor (unintelligible).

Bartlett: Oh, and she was just a tenant?

Zimmerman: Oh yeah, she was a tenant.

Bartlett: And she painted all of the Brazilian floors white?

Zimmerman: Oh yeah, white.

Bartlett: And then the landlord wanted to recoup that damage it sounds like?

Zimmerman: Oh yeah, to get it back to…

Bartlett: Oh no, that’s awful.

Zimmerman: It was awful (unintelligible).

Bartlett: Oh, God; that’s awful. How did she not think she’d have to pay for that? Come on now.

Zimmerman: I know because she…

Bartlett: Did she think she was improving it, like had made it better? They owe me money for the paint?

Zimmerman: No, she wanted, it was depressing to have dark floors.

Bartlett: Oh, got it.

Zimmerman: You have dark floors, (unintelligible) would you paint them white?

Bartlett: I mean, I don’t know, I guess I can’t know until I’m in that situation. OK so really quickly with the…

Columbian Breaking News Reporter