Second romance cover-up alleged


A new twist has surfaced in the legal uproar over the romance between Family Court Judge Steven Jones and former prosecutor Lisa Willardson.

Defense attorney Louis Schneider has stepped forward to allege that Willardson tried to cover up a previous dating relationship he had with her while they sat on opposing sides in child welfare cases.

In a complaint filed against Willardson last week with the Nevada State Bar, the district attorney's office questioned her handling of the relationship with Schneider. The office also accused Willardson in the complaint of lying in a sworn affidavit about the extent of her romantic involvement with Jones.

Willardson, 43, was fired Dec. 13, a day after Schneider provided one of her supervisors, Chief Deputy District Attorney Mary Brown, with text messaging evidence of his relationship with Willardson, which occurred in August and September.

The Bar complaint alleged Willardson violated the rules of professional conduct for lawyers when she "continued to represent the state in cases directly adverse to attorney Schneider after they were in a serious dating relationship."

"When asked about the potential relationship so that the district attorney's office could avoid a potential conflict, Ms. Willardson lied to cover up the relationship," the complaint alleged. "She also specifically instructed Mr. Schneider to lie to Ms. Brown, if she should ever ask Mr. Schneider about the relationship."

The district attorney's office attached text messages to its complaint between Schneider and Willardson that contained references to cases the two were working together. Some of the texts, sources said, included the same suggestive language Willardson later used in emails while flirting with Jones.

Willardson did not respond to an email request for comment Tuesday.

Schneider said he approached Brown because he knew Willardson had not been candid about her relationship with him and suspected she also had lied about her involvement with Jones.

"I came forward on my own volition to advise the district attorney's office that Lisa had lied to them," Schneider said, adding that he reported his own lack of disclosure about his relationship with Willardson to the State Bar.

Bar Counsel David Clark said, "I'm aware that he reported it. We have no file open on him yet."

The Bar, however, is moving forward with its investigation into the complaint against Willardson, Clark said.

The complaint also alleged that Willardson, who appeared regularly before Jones as a deputy in the district attorney's child welfare unit, had schemed with the judge to keep their subsequent relationship secret as part of a "pattern of misconduct" by the former prosecutor.

The Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline is investigating the way Jones, 53, handled the relationship.

Investigators with the commission have interviewed Schneider and members of the district attorney's office, including former District Attorney David Roger, who retired Tuesday.

The district attorney's office also is seeking cellphone records of both Jones and Willardson in a criminal investigation into whether they perjured themselves in sworn affidavits.

Jones and Willardson contended in the affidavits that they didn't start dating until November, after she was removed from prosecuting cases before the judge. But emails from her office computer showed the relationship might have begun while she was still appearing before Jones.

Prosecutors filed copies of the emails in Family Court as part of a motion to disqualify Jones from a child welfare case because of his "personal bias" against the two whistle-blowing prosecutors who helped expose the romantic relationship.

The judge had banned deputy district attorneys Michelle Edwards and Janne Hanrahan, who worked with Willardson, from his courtroom.

They had given supervisors a photo Edwards took of Willardson and Jones sitting close to each other at an Oct. 28 office restaurant gathering. Edwards, who took the photo with her cellphone under the table, thought Jones had put his hand on Willardson's jeans-covered leg. The photo appears to show his hand moving toward Willardson's leg or away from it.

Contact Jeff German at jgerman@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-8135.

 

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