Updated 

Embattled Family Court judge seeks re-election


A criminal indictment, a suspension and a finding that he committed professional misconduct did not stop embattled Family Court Judge Steven Jones from filing for re-election Tuesday.

Jones threw his hat into a ring with four challengers, even though his popularity has declined sharply in recent months because of a string of scandals.

Four lawyers — Rebecca Burton, Lynn Hughes, Michelle Mercer and Marsha Kimble-Simms — all have filed to run for his Family Court seat.

Jones was first elected to the bench in 1992.

“The guy’s got a lot of nerve,” said longtime child advocate Donna Coleman. “There is something to be said that there is no bad publicity.”

Coleman said Jones would not be in a position to run for re-election if the state appointed judges rather than elected them.

“I don’t think he could possibly win unless he gets the lamest opponents on the planet,” Coleman said.

Coleman said she doesn’t think Jones was a bad judge. But she added, “I just think he is a bad example for anybody because of his personal decision making.”

William Dressel, president emeritus of the National Judicial College in Reno, said all of Jones’ personal troubles aren’t going to play well with the voters.

“I think the voters would be very concerned with somebody like that being up for re-election,” Dressel said. “He’s going to have a lot of trouble raising money.”

The judge’s lawyer, James J. Jimmerson, could not be reached for comment late Tuesday.

Last month, the Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline found that special prosecutors proved “by clear and convincing evidence” eight of the 12 charges filed against Jones in December 2012 stemming from his romantic relationship with the late former Deputy District Attorney Lisa Willardson.

Jones, who is under a federal fraud indictment, discovered Willardson’s body in the bathroom of her Henderson home on Dec. 26, the same day the commission’s decision was first made public in a Las Vegas Review-Journal story. There were no signs of foul play, and the coroner is waiting for toxicology results before ruling on the cause of her death.

The commission’s special prosecutors had accused Jones of violating rules of the Nevada Code of Judicial Conduct that require judges to comply with the law, avoid the appearance of impropriety and conduct themselves in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity of the judiciary.

He faces a Jan. 27 public hearing before the commission on a wide range of possible sanctions including another suspension and removal from the bench.

Special prosecutors proved all three counts were tied directly to the judge’s relationship with Willardson, which began in 2011, the commission ruled.

Two of the counts alleged Jones improperly maintained a “close social and personal relationship” with Willardson between October and December 2011 while she “actively litigated cases” before him and then did not disqualify himself from her cases.

The other count accused Jones of interfering with the efforts of then District Attorney David Roger to remove Willardson from a child welfare unit that prosecuted cases in the judge’s courtroom.

The commission also found that prosecutors presented strong evidence to sustain three counts accusing Jones of using his judicial office to help Willardson prepare a response to a State Bar of Nevada complaint against her stemming from their romantic relationship.

Jones was suspended by the commission after his November 2012 federal indictment. He has been receiving his $200,000 annual salary since then.

The indictment alleges Jones used the power of his Family Court office to carry out a $3 million investment fraud scheme with five other defendants between 2002 and 2012. His trial is in March.

The commission has been investigating similar financial fraud allegations against Jones, but that case, which dates to 2006, is tied up at the Nevada Supreme Court.

Jones traditionally has received high marks in the biannual Judicial Performance Evaluation sponsored by the Review-Journal.

In the 2011 survey, 70 percent of the lawyers who rated Jones said he should keep his position. But in the just-released 2013 evaluation, his popularity took a nosedive.

Only 30 percent of the respondents thought he should be retained. That was the lowest score of the 90 judges evaluated in the various local courts.

Contact reporter Jeff German at jgerman@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-8135. Follow him on Twitter @JGermanRJ.

 

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