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May 10, 2021

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What awaits Clark County judge Zimmerman if he returns to District Court bench?

Judge, on leave over Peterson comments, faces limited workload

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

If Clark County District Court Judge Darvin Zimmerman returns to the bench – pending an investigation into comments he made critical of a local Black man killed by police – his workload will be limited, according to criminal justice officials.

District Court Presiding Judge Kelli Osler said in an email that if Zimmerman does not retire or resign and is not removed from elected office, he could return to the bench at any time.

However, he would be unable to hear any criminal or civil cases where an affidavit of prejudice has been properly filed against him by attorneys, Osler said.

Assuming affidavits of prejudice are not filed on civil cases, Zimmerman could hear infractions, small claims and other matters involving disputes between people or businesses over money or injury to personal rights, Osler said.

“If he were to return and affidavits were filed as indicated by the prosecutors’ offices and defense bar, we would rearrange his schedule so he could hear civil matters,” Osler said.

More on Zimmerman

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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’
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Clark County Prosecutor Tony Golik said his office has decided to file affidavits in criminal cases before Zimmerman, which means he would not be allowed to preside over those cases. But a decision has not been made about other types of cases.

Vancouver City Attorney Jonathan Young said assistant city attorneys have been directed to file an affidavit of prejudice on any city cases before Zimmerman, including matters on civil infraction dockets.

Zimmerman announced March 16 he was temporarily stepping away from the bench after self-reporting his comments to the Commission on Judicial Conduct. The commission has the power to investigate his comments and take action, including recommending the Washington Supreme Court remove him from his elected office.

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.

He is using paid leave and does not have an anticipated return date, his attorney, Josephine Townsend, said in an email Tuesday. According to the county website, monthly pay for District Court judges is $15,843, or $190,116 annually.

The long-serving judge was caught March 9 on a live social media feed speaking critically of 21-year-old Kevin Peterson Jr. and his family’s motives in hiring a law firm to represent them following his death.

Zimmerman’s comments prompted swift criticism and action.

In addition to prosecutors seeking his removal from cases, the District Court reassigned his caseload, Superior Court stripped his authority to perform any functions of that court, and attorneys, activists and elected officials called for him to resign.

Speaking through Townsend, Zimmerman has said he plans to let the commission’s investigation play out.

It’s unclear if he will return to the bench before that process is completed; Townsend said it will depend on the length of the investigation. She was unsure if the issue would be taken up at the commission’s April or June meeting.

She said “any return to the bench and duties to which he would be assigned is an internal matter with the court and will be addressed through that process.”

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