Family Court Judge Steven Jones will get a three-month suspension without pay for having a romantic relationship with the late prosecutor Lisa Willardson, a judicial panel decided Monday.
The Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline also publicly censured the judge, who is already under suspension with pay.
Special prosecutors for the commission last week argued for the judge’s removal from the bench, but the seven-member panel opted for the lighter sanctions, citing in its decision his “lack of prior disciplinary record” and “otherwise exemplary work as a judge” for more than 20 years.
The panel still had harsh words for Jones, saying he “caused the disruption of the entire judicial system” and the “unnecessary waste of taxpayers’ money and judicial resources.”
The judge also caused the cancellation of court calendars, which “profoundly affected numerous Nevada families during the holidays,” the commission wrote.
Jones, first elected to the bench in 1992, dropped his re-election campaign last week after a commission hearing to consider his punishment.
His term is up at the end of December, so he likely will be eligible to receive his $200,000 salary for several months after he completes the three-month suspension without pay, which begins immediately. He is not expected to return to the bench unless cleared of other charges.
The commission suspended Jones with pay in November 2012 after his federal grand jury indictment stemming from an alleged decade-long investment fraud scheme.
The indictment alleges Jones used the power of his Family Court office to carry out a $3 million scheme with five other defendants between 2002 and 2012. His trial is set for March, but expected to be continued.
Jones’ attorney, James J. Jimmerson, declined comment Monday. So did former Clark County District Attorney David Roger, who prompted the commission’s investigation with a complaint against Jones.
Longtime child advocate Donna Coleman criticized the panel.
“I don’t think the punishment was strong enough because of his lack of remorse,” Coleman said. “I don’t think he should receive his salary for the remainder of his time on the bench.”
Following a week-long hearing in December, the judicial commission found that special prosecutors proved eight of 12 charges filed against Jones related to his relationship with Willardson, who still appeared before him.
Jones discovered Willardson’s body in the bathroom of her Henderson home on Dec. 26, the same day the commission’s decision on the charges was made public.
There were no signs of foul play, and the coroner is waiting for toxicology results before ruling on the cause of her death.
Commission prosecutors had accused Jones of violating rules of the Nevada Code of Judicial Conduct that require judges to avoid the appearance of impropriety and conduct themselves in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity of the judiciary.
The commission ruled prosecutors proved three counts that were tied directly to the judge’s affair with Willardson between October and December 2011.
Two of the counts alleged Jones improperly maintained the relationship while Willardson litigated child welfare cases before him and then did not disqualify himself from the cases. He issued a ruling in her favor in December, long after they had begun to date.
The other count accused Jones of interfering with Roger’s decision 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 complaint against her stemming from their romantic relationship.
Jones told the commission last week that he was a “humbled” man and had learned his lesson.
But he continued to blame his troubles on the media and particularly the Las Vegas Review-Journal, which first reported his relationship with Willardson.
Roger and other former members of his staff testified about the relationship’s damaging impact on the court system.
The former district attorney told the panel that Jones had “abandoned” his role to remain fair and objective in child welfare cases, and his actions enhanced public cynicism of the court.
Contact reporter Jeff German at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-8135. Follow him on Twitter @JGermanRJ.