Suspended judge loses latest attempt to stop disciplinary hearing

Suspended Family Court Judge Steven Jones lost another bid Tuesday to block disciplinary proceedings against him.

After an hourlong hearing, District Judge Kathleen Delaney ruled from the bench that she lacked authority to stop the Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline from holding a public hearing into allegations Jones mishandled a romantic relationship with a prosecutor who appeared before him.

Afterward, Brian Hutchins, the commission’s acting general counsel and executive director, said he would recommend the panel move forward with the hearing as soon as possible.

Jones’ lawyer, James Jimmerson, said he was considering appealing Delaney’s decision.

Last week, the Nevada Supreme Court denied a similar bid by Jones and his attorneys to derail the proceedings.

Jimmerson had asked the court to consider defense claims that the judicial commission failed to follow its own rules and violated the judge’s due process rights.

But in a 2-to-1 decision, a three-justice panel denied the defense petition and refused to hold up the hearing process any longer.

The justices said Jones has the option of coming back to them on appeal if the commission concludes he violated Nevada’s Judicial Code of Conduct.

The commission canceled a July 29 hearing after the Supreme Court temporarily stayed the process.

Jimmerson independently filed a lawsuit against the commission and sought a preliminary injunction in District Court to prohibit the panel from taking action against Jones on the same legal grounds.

But Delaney said Tuesday her intervention would be “an inappropriate exercise” of authority, and she agreed with Hutchins that jurisdiction better lies with the Supreme Court.

Commission lawyers previously have contended the judge’s due process rights were protected during the investigation and his eleventh-hour effort to halt the disciplinary proceeding last month was a ploy to avoid sanctions.

According to a 12-count complaint filed by commission lawyers in December, former Deputy District Attorney Lisa Willardson “actively litigated cases” in the judge’s courtroom while she maintained a relationship with him in 2011. Jones didn’t disqualify himself from her cases.

The Nevada State Bar, which regulates lawyers, declined to discipline Willardson, who was fired from the district attorney’s office after the relationship was revealed.

The professional organization sent her a “letter of caution” that suggested her conduct had “undermined” public trust in the justice system.

Willardson walked into the courtroom with Jimmerson on Tuesday and stayed throughout the hearing.

Jones has denied the misconduct allegations, first brought to light in a 2011 Las Vegas Review-Journal story.

The judicial commission suspended Jones in November after a federal grand jury charged him with participating in a $3 million investment fraud scheme.

Jones, who is to stand trial in the criminal case March 3, has continued to receive his $200,000 annual salary.