Cameron Mitchell was a little surprised to hear some Tri-Citians think of him in the same light as Martin Luther King Jr.
"I thought, 'What did I do that merited (the 2012 Martin Luther King Jr. Spirit Award)?' " he said.
The Benton-Franklin Superior Court judge will be honored today at noon during the 21st annual bell-ringing ceremony at Pasco's Columbia Basin College.
Mitchell, 53, of Richland, said he can't think of any person whose legacy he would be more proud to be associated with than King.
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"What a great honor," he said.
Mitchell became the court's first minority judge when then-Gov. Gary Locke appointed him to the bench in 2004.
Mitchell said it would have been more difficult and less likely for him to wind up a Superior Court judge without the work of King and other civil rights leaders.
He said he enjoys the chance he has as a judge to contribute something positive to the community and the people he comes into contact with.
Mitchell was last elected in 2008, and said he plans to run for re-election this year.
He graduated from Richland High School in 1977. He played football at Washington State University and played in the 1981 Holiday Bowl. He was selected to the Pac-10 Academic All-Conference Football team.
He had the chance to go pro, but his father, CJ Mitchell of Richland, said that his son decided to go to law school instead. He received his law degree from Willamette University in Salem.
Cameron Mitchell worked as an attorney with the Washington Attorney General's Office and the U.S. Department of Energy. He became an administrative law judge in 1993.
His father said watching his son put on a judge's robe and be sworn in as the first black Benton-Franklin Superior Court judge is one of the highlights of his life.
"That's the day I cried," said his father, who still remembers when he couldn't buy a home in Richland because of the color of his skin.
He's a great listener, and that is what makes him a good judge, his father said.
"I've very proud of him," he said. "And I'm very proud of the fact that he isn't a 'rah rah, look at me' kind of guy."
CJ Mitchell said he will be at CBC on Monday to watch his son receive the same award he received in 1998.
Cameron Mitchell said he hopes that he can be as positive of an influence in the community as his father has been.
"I can't think of anyone who is more deserving than Judge Mitchell," said fellow Superior Court Judge Carrie Runge.
Cameron Mitchell has been the presiding judge for Superior Court for about a year, which means he handles administrative issues in addition to the standard work of a judge.
"He's been a great leader," Runge said. "He leads by example."
He has an innate sense of fairness and justice and treats everyone equally, Runge said.
He also has an amazing amount of patience and integrity, she said. He has handled difficult cases with trying individuals, and has listened to them and let them have their day in court.
"He doesn't shut down people," she said. "He lets them have their day."
Benton County Prosecutor Andy Miller recalls a difficult murder trial several years ago, when Walter W. Copland, a retired Tacoma police captain, was found guilty of killing Harvey "Al" Anthis after an evening of excessive drinking.
During the whole trial, not a single person lost their temper, despite a lot of emotion on both sides and the legal issues, Miller said.
Mitchell runs a courtroom in a very professional and courteous manner, Miller said.
"It was one of the best tried cases I've had, and I give a lot of credit for that to Judge Mitchell," he said.
Cameron Mitchell treats everyone with respect, Miller said. "He's an excellent judge," he said. "He takes each case very seriously and he's very patient."
Cameron Mitchell is as nice in person as he is on the bench, Miller said. He's involved in the community and has friends in all different walks of life.
"I've never heard anybody say anything negative about him," Miller said.