Whatever else may be said about Family Court Judge Steven Jones — and there is plenty — you can’t say he’s without chutzpah.
Jones is appealing to the Nevada Supreme Court a three-month suspension without pay after he was found to have violated the Code of Judicial Conduct by allowing a woman he was dating to appear before him in court, and by throwing a judicial temper tantrum after the incident came to light, fouling schedules and postponing cases.
Judges, you see, are supposed “to act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary and to avoid impropriety and or the appearance of impropriety.” What Jones did was the equivalent of setting public confidence in the judiciary on fire, shooting it in the head and tossing it off the Regional Justice Center roof at high noon.
Jones should have been tossed off the bench for what he did. Instead, the Judicial Discipline Commission tempered its judgment with the recognition that Jones has never been disciplined before and had a good record on the bench.
The judge’s personal life is another story. He was acquitted of domestic battery charges in 2006, when his then-girlfriend recanted her testimony. And he’s been indicted in a federal fraud case that led to a paid suspension from his job, but those charges have yet to come to trial.
Not only that, the woman at the heart of this scandal — ex-Deputy District Attorney Lisa Willardson — was found dead in her Henderson home around Christmas by Jones, who says he grew concerned when Willardson stopped returning text messages.
As his disciplinary hearing began, Jones told the panel that he’d decided not to run for re-election to the seat he’s held since 1992. But the damage Jones has inflicted on the judiciary, the cynicism that will result from this scandal and the years that it will take to rebuild the public’s trust in the courts, is no small thing. Jones got off easy; in fact, if future court administrators approve, he could even be eligible to serve as a senior judge, returning to the exact same job even after he’s provided a mountain of evidence that he should no longer be trusted in that role.
Instead of marveling at his good fortune, however, Jones has decided to appeal. Even though he’s been on paid suspension for more than a year and will never return to his chambers, Jones doesn’t want to sit around for three months not collecting his $200,000 annual salary. Instead, he wants to sit around and collect his $200,000 annual salary, as if he’d never done anything wrong.
It’s his right, of course. Jones knows better than most that our system of criminal justice is built on due process and filled with safeguards to make sure every person’s rights are preserved. But in a city where shame died a long time ago, Jones has managed to stand out when it comes to unmitigated gall. Let’s hope the state Supreme Court makes swift work of this appeal.
• Speaking of ethics, Clark County Commissioner Larry Brown is asking the state Ethics Commission if he’s allowed to vote on issuing bonds for a new baseball stadium in Summerlin, given the fact that he works for the owners of the Las Vegas 51s, who will build and operate the facility.
In a word, the answer is no. (I’ve written many more words about it on my blog, at SlashPolitics.com, if you’re interested in taking a deep dive into the morass of Nevada’s ethics laws.)
It’s tempting to say, as many did after Brown’s question became public, that if you have to ask, the answer is probably no. The problem is, in the post-G-sting, post-HOA-gate, post-Steven Jones world, it’s just not enough to tell anybody to “let your conscience be your guide.”
Steve Sebelius is a Las Vegas Review-Journal political columnist who blogs at SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at 702-387-5276 or email@example.com.