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Family Court administrator tried to broker peace between judge, district attorney's office


Family Court’s top administrator testified Tuesday that he tried to broker a deal in December 2011 with then-District Attorney David Roger that would have allowed a prosecutor involved in a relationship with Family Court Judge Steven Jones to go back to hearing cases before the judge.

In the process, Leonard Cash criticized a Review-Journal reporter’s coverage of the Jones story, as well as Roger, who balked at the offer and refused to let the prosecutor, Lisa Willardson, go back to the district attorney’s child welfare unit.

Cash, who once served as Roger’s administrator at the district attorney’s office, also admitted that he had dated Willardson in May or June of 2011, several months before Jones began his romantic involvement with her in October.

His testimony came at the conclusion of the second day of a week-long hearing by the Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline into allegations Jones mishandled his relationship with Willardson.

Washoe County District Judge Jerome Polaha, the commission member presiding over the hearing, appeared to have trouble understanding why Cash didn’t see that by December 2011, Jones and Willardson were deeply involved with each other.

Cash, who was called by commission attorneys, testified that a courthouse employee reported to him that she saw Jones and Willardson holding hands in the courtyard of Family Court, but he didn’t see that as evidence of a relationship.

He also testified that he didn’t see a controversial photo taken of Jones with his hand near Willardson’s knee under a table at a party on Oct. 28, 2011, as evidence of their relationship.

At the end of Cash’s testimony, Polaha asked him about the employee report and the photo, and once more Cash said he did not believe they demonstrated that Jones and Willardson were involved.

The photo was snapped with a cellphone by one of Willardson’s colleagues in the child welfare unit. Deputy District Attorney Michelle Edwards, and another deputy, Janne Hanrahan, showed the photo to their supervisors and word got back to Jones, leading to a rift between the office and Jones and to Willardson’s firing in December 2011.

Cash testified that he had meetings in early December with other high-level court officials — including Jones, Chief Family Court Judge Gloria O’Malley, Chief District Judge Jennifer Togliatti and his direct boss, Clark County Court Executive Steve Grierson — in an effort to resolve the rift that had threatened to stall child welfare cases.

Jones had put the word out that he was so outraged over the party photo that he wanted to ban Edwards, Hanrahan and their supervisors from his courtroom.

Cash testified that he pitched a plan to the court officials to try to persuade Roger to return Willardson back to her position in the child welfare unit and let his successor decide her fate after his retirement in January 2012. In return, Jones would not ban Edwards and Hanrahan from his courtroom.

Roger had shipped Willardson out of the unit after the photo was taken.

Cash said Jones had signed off on the offer and he thought he could call upon Roger “as a friend” to accept it. He also testified that he thought the allegations surrounding the relationship between Jones and Willardson were “flimsy,” and he hoped he could get a favorable ethics ruling on the subject.

But Roger refused to accept the deal, and Jones issued an order formally banning Edwards and Hanrahan from his courtroom.

Soon after, Roger fired Willardson.

When the judge’s lead lawyer, James Jimmerson, suggested on cross-examination that Roger was a “hot-head,” Cash responded, “David can be quite stubborn.”

Cash also testified under questioning from Jimmerson that he wanted to inform Grierson and Togliatti of his effort because he feared a Review-Journal reporter would get word of the possible deal and “exploit” and exaggerate it.”

“I have never seen him treat the court system well one time,” Cash told Jimmerson.

Commission attorneys expected to conclude their case against Jones Wednesday morning.

O’Malley, Togliatti and other judges are expected to be among the defense’s first witnesses. Jones and Willardson also are expected to testify.

The commission filed a 12-count complaint against Jones in December 2012, alleging Willardson “actively litigated cases” in the judge’s courtroom while the two were involved, and Jones failed to disqualify himself from those cases.

If the commission finds that Jones violated the Judicial Code of Conduct, it will hold another hearing beginning Dec. 16 to consider punishment, which could include removing the judge from the bench.

In November 2012, the commission suspended Jones with pay after he was indicted by a federal grand jury in what authorities allege was a $3 million investment fraud scheme. He has been collecting his $200,000 annual salary since then.

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

 

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