Updated 

Coroner: Former prosecutor died of accidental drug overdose


The Dec. 26 death of Lisa Willardson, the former prosecutor entangled in a romantic relationship with suspended Family Court Judge Steven Jones, was ruled an accident Tuesday.

Her system contained a fatal combination of four anti-anxiety and sleep medications, Clark County Coroner Mike Murphy said.

“She died from an acute combined drug intoxication,” Murphy said. “We have ruled it an accident.”

One of the drugs found in her system, diazepam, is commonly known as Valium. Another drug, Zolpidem, is found in sleeping medications such as Ambien.

Murphy said there were no indications that her death was a suicide. No note was found.

None of the levels of each drug was fatal, but the combination of all of the drugs caused her death, Murphy explained.

Her lawyer, Gary Modafferi, said he was happy suicide was ruled out.

“When we we first heard of her death, there was a lot of speculation that this was a suicide because of the timing, but everybody who really knew her well believed that wasn’t the case,” he said.

Willardson’s relationship with Jones led to his Feb. 3 suspension without pay for three months.

The Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline concluded that Jones improperly allowed Willardson, 45, to appear before him while the two were dating and ruled in her favor in at least one of her child welfare cases.

Jones found Willardson’s body in her Henderson home — the same day the commission made public its findings that Jones had violated professional rules of conduct and a little more than a month before the suspension.

The judge had just after returned from a three-day holiday trip to Brian Head, Utah, with his children.

Willardson, who had been planning to run for a seat on the Family Court bench this year, did not accompany Jones to Utah, though she had family there.

At the time of her death Modafferi said Willardson was in good spirits and was not depressed. He described her as a fighter who looked forward to having her day in federal court, where she was suing the district attorney’s office over her termination.

Jones has declined to comment on Willardson’s death, and his lawyers could not be reached for comment late Tuesday.

Her death came as Jones was grappling with judicial commission’s decision that special prosecutors had proven eight of the 12 charges they filed against Jones stemming from his relationship with Willardson.

Two of the charges alleged Jones improperly maintained a close personal relationship with Willardson between October and December 2011 while she litigated cases before him and then failed to disqualify himself from her cases.

Another count accused Jones of interfering with then District Attorney David Roger’s efforts to remove Willardson from his child welfare unit.

Willardson had steadfastly defended Jones throughout the disciplinary proceedings. Earlier in the year, the State Bar of Nevada had given Willardson a “letter of caution” critical of her professional judgment for engaging in the relationship with Jones. But that didn’t stop her from putting the word out through social media that she intended to challenge Family Court Judge Jennifer Elliott.

Willardson also used social media to show her affection for Jones and criticize media coverage of the disciplinary proceedings against the judge.

The relationship between Jones and Willardson was scrutinized by the judicial commission during a week-long hearing in Las Vegas in December.

More than a dozen witnesses testified under oath, including Jones, Willardson and Roger, who fired Willardson in December 2011 after the relationship was exposed.

Special prosecutors presented evidence that showed Jones and Willardson text messaged each other 34 times on Oct. 20, 2011, the day after they met for lunch for the first time. Investigators uncovered 2,500 texts between the couple through Dec. 15 of that year, prosecutors said.

 

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