Judicial conduct case against former Clark County judge dismissed


The Washington State Commission on Judicial Conduct is no longer considering disciplinary action against former Clark County Superior Court Judge Darvin Zimmerman due to the retired judge’s poor health, the commission ruled Sept. 8.

Zimmerman had been subject to an investigation and complaints in 2021 over remarks he made on a hot microphone in a Clark County courtroom about a 21-year-old Black man killed by law enforcement.

The Dec. 3, 2021, complaint alleged Zimmerman made “comments about a controversial incident and related impending case(s) that displayed racial bias, indicated a lack of impartiality, and implied that he had a personal channel of communication with the Sheriff’s Department regarding pending and impending cases,” a release from the commission stated.

The comments regarded Kevin Peterson Jr. and his father. Peterson was shot four times by deputies from the Clark County Sheriff’s Office in October 2020 after a failed drug operation in Hazel Dell.

Following court proceedings March 10, 2021, Zimmerman was recorded in the courtroom referring to Peterson as “the Black guy that they’re trying to make an angel out of,” while also criticizing his father.

“The next thing he wakes up with dollar signs in his eyes,” Zimmerman said about Peterson’s father.

Zimmerman noted his son was a member of the sheriff’s office and involved with the investigation, though he was not one of the three deputies who shot Peterson.

After the recording was available on Youtube, Zimmerman received backlash, including from members of the Clark County court system. The commission reported receiving dozens of complaints, including a self-report from Zimmerman, who apologized after the incident.

“I deeply regret my statements which caused divisiveness and concern in the community that I love and serve,” Zimmerman wrote in his own statement in March 2021.

Zimmerman retired from the bench June 30, 2021, the commission’s release stated.

The former judge denied the commission’s charges against him. Hearings were set for June and November 2022 and again in May 2023 but were continued due to an undisclosed “serious medical condition.” Disciplinary counsel for the commission moved to dismiss the case “due to the serious risks a hearing would present to [Zimmerman’s] health,” the release stated.

The dismissal was “based solely” on Zimmerman’s independently verified condition, according to the commission. The case could be refiled should Zimmerman again seek to serve in judicial office.

In his March 2021 apology, Zimmerman, through his attorney, pointed to his history supporting the community through therapeutic courts such as Veterans Court, Mental Health Court and pre-arrest diversion programs.

“I recognize the injustice that befalls men and women of color as well as non native English speaking litigants,” Zimmerman wrote. He said he was “speaking as a father” about concerns on the delayed nature of the investigation which has been ongoing since October 2020, “and why it is necessary for that information released to the public to be accurate, so that everyone, including the police get a fair evaluation of what happened.”

“My concerns as a father do not excuse the fact that my comments caused an already volatile community to again become divisive,” Zimmerman said.

The Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office completed a review of the shooting in 2021, ruling law enforcement’s actions were justified. The family of Peterson is suing the county in federal court alleging wrongful death and excessive force.