Prosecutors and public defenders in Clark County are pushing for more consequences after a district court judge derided a Black man killed by police in October.
Barrar Law Firm, among the largest defense firms in Southwest Washington, on Monday called for Judge Darvin Zimmerman’s resignation following the recorded and broadcast comments.
“The bias and the racism displayed in his comments have no place in our community and no place in our courtrooms,” the law firm said in a statement. “We must hold judicial officers to a high standard so that everyone in our community has equal access to justice.”
“Judge Zimmerman has shown that he cannot meet that standard and should resign,” the statement ended.
Clark County Prosecutor Tony Golik also said prosecutors plan to file motions before every case to disqualify Zimmerman as a judge. Zimmerman oversees criminal misdemeanors, such as thefts, misdemeanor assaults and driving infractions.
“We’re not indicating that the prosecutor’s office feels like we would necessarily get an unfair ruling,” Golik told OPB. “We’re worried more about people that are accused.”
Earlier Monday, the other five judges at Clark County District Court jointly condemned Zimmerman’s comments. They said “racial bias displayed by a judge is unacceptable, unethical, unjust and cannot be tolerated.”
Last week, Zimmerman told another court official that Kevin Peterson Jr. – a 21-year-old Black man killed by police in October during an attempted drug bust – had a “death wish,” and that he was “so dumb” for fearing a lifetime jail sentence and not cooperating with the regional drug task force during the sting.
Zimmerman’s son, Erik Zimmerman, was one of the deputies on the case and present for the sting, investigative records show. He was not one of the three deputies who fired at Peterson as he ran away that Oct. 29 evening.
The elder Zimmerman also suggested that Peterson’s family was capitalizing on his death. He noted Peterson’s father showed up to the scene after the shooting, but that “the next day he wakes up with dollar signs in his eyes and George Floyd’s attorneys.”
The comments were first reported by the Oregonian/OregonLive on Saturday. Zimmerman made his remarks earlier in the week, but the comments did not surface immediately. A recording of the conversation had been broadcast to YouTube, but was later removed.
Golik said his office would revisit its decision to oppose Zimmerman after a review of the incident by the Commission on Judicial Conduct. Such reviews are triggered by complaints, but Golik said he is unsure if anyone in his office will file the complaint.
Tim Murphy, an attorney with the Northwest Justice Project, said he filed a complaint Monday afternoon. He said Zimmerman’s comments were “demeaning” and “undermined the impartiality of the judiciary.”
“It seems pretty clear that he violated several different sections of the code,” Murphy said in a text message. He pointed to other comments by Zimmerman – that he sends information to the sheriff’s office about the case – as muddling the lines between the courts and police.
“This is not how this is supposed to work,” he said. “It taints the way his case is viewed, especially when he’s, by his own admission, giving information to his son who was involved in the case.”
Sheriff Chuck Atkins issued a statement broadly condemning racism and bigotry. He said his office is “committed to the accountability and transparency expected of this community.”
Murphy also noted that on multiple occasions he has had clients who could only speak Spanish and relied on interpreters. Zimmerman, he said, repeatedly asked the clients why they didn’t speak English and what countries they hailed from.
“I told Judge Zimmerman his questions were inappropriate,” Murphy said. “But I’ve seen him do this several other times to people who he perceives to be from another country, whether or not they actually are.”
Another public defender, who declined to speak publicly, told OPB that the comments weren’t surprising.
“He’s been saying outrageous things for years,” the attorney said. “Sometimes he can be fair and impartial, but he constantly berates people why they don’t know English, how long they’ve been in country – just completely inappropriate.”
It’s unclear how many complaints have been filed against Zimmerman with the Commission on Judicial Conduct in the past. Agency officials declined to confirm whether they received any, saying state statutes prevent disclosing complaints that aren’t substantiated.
The agency does list disciplinary actions against judges on its website. Zimmerman, a judge since 1986, shows no records of discipline in the database.
Reiko Callner, the agency’s executive director, said they are aware of Zimmerman’s comments but declined to comment on the case.
Cynthia Gray, director of the Center for Judicial Ethics, a national organization, said there were 127 cases in 2020 of judges incurring discipline across the United States. Eleven judges were removed from office.