Judge Steven Jones' romance allegations to come before panel


After months of delays, the Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline finally gets a chance Monday to hear allegations that suspended Family Court Judge Steven Jones mishandled a romantic relationship with a prosecutor who appeared before him.

Jones plans to hold back no punches in his bid to avoid losing his longtime seat on the bench.

He has subpoenaed a slew of fellow judges, including Chief District Judge Jennifer Togliatti and Chief Family Court Judge Gloria O’Malley, to testify during his defense in the weeklong hearing in the boardroom of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

“Judge Jones looks forward to working with the Judicial Discipline Commission to demonstrate his continued fitness as a sitting judge,” said his lead lawyer, James J. Jimmerson.

Jones fought to derail the hearing for months, arguing the commission violated its own rules and his due process rights during its investigation into the misconduct allegations.

Attorneys for the commission have their own headliners waiting in the wings to testify at the hearing, including former District Attorney David Roger and the two deputies who helped expose the relationship between Jones and the prosecutor, Lisa Willardson.

Roger removed Willardson from handling child abuse and neglect cases before Jones after the relationship became public in October 2011 and appeared to invite a professional conflict of interest for both Willardson and the judge.

Roger later fired Willardson.

More than a year later, in December 2012, commission attorneys filed a 12-count complaint against Jones, accusing him of violating Nevada’s Judicial Code of Conduct.

The complaint alleged that Willardson “actively litigated cases” in the judge’s courtroom and that Jones failed to disqualify himself from those cases.

Both Jones and Willardson, who was given a letter of caution by the State Bar of Nevada critical of her professional conduct, also are expected to testify during the hearing.

So is Leonard Cash, the top Family Court administrator who Roger alleged conveyed a threat from Jones to back away from moving Willardson out of the district attorney’s child welfare unit.

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

The code of conduct, designed to maintain the public’s confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary, requires judges to refrain from allowing their personal relationships to influence their behavior on the bench.

In November 2012, the commission suspended Jones with pay after he was indicted by a federal grand jury in what authorities alleged was a $3 million investment fraud scheme.

He has been collecting his $200,000 annual salary since then.

Jones, first elected to Family Court in 1992, was charged with using the power of his office to carry out the investment scheme for more than a decade.

He is free on his own recognizance and set to stand trial in March.

One of the counts in the Judicial Discipline Commission’s complaint alleges Jones interfered with Roger’s initial effort to reassign Willardson.

Another count alleges that Jones violated the rules of impartiality when he subsequently banned Deputy District Attorneys Michelle Edwards and Janne Hanrahan, the two whistle-blowing deputies in the child welfare unit, from his courtroom.

Jones has denied the misconduct allegations, and Willardson has contended that she did not litigate any cases before Jones after she began dating him.

Willardson has insisted that video recordings of the judge’s courtroom support her position.

Willardson has put the word out through social media that she intends to run against Family Court Judge Jennifer Elliott in 2014.

 

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