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Supreme Court panel: Hearing on suspended Judge Steven Jones may proceed


The Nevada Supreme Court has denied a bid by suspended Family Court Judge Steven Jones to derail disciplinary proceedings against him.

The high court last month temporarily blocked the Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline from holding a hearing on allegations Jones mishandled a romantic relationship with a prosecutor who appeared before him.

Jones’ lawyer, James 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 on Thursday denied the defense petition and refused to delay the hearing process any longer.

“The continued delay of those proceedings would undermine the public’s confidence in the integrity of the judicial discipline process and work to prejudice both the petitioner and the (judicial commission),” majority panel members James Hardesty and Ron Paraguirre wrote.

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.

Dissenting Justice Michael Cherry argued the Supreme Court should resolve the defense claims before the commission takes action.

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

Logistically, it could take two to three months to reschedule the hearing, the commission said.

The effort to block the hearing, however, is not over.

Jimmerson seeks a preliminary injunction in District Court to prohibit the commission from taking action against Jones on the same legal grounds.

District Judge Kathleen Delaney will hold a hearing Tuesday on the preliminary injunction and a motion by commission lawyers to dismiss the District Court action.

Jimmerson said Friday that Jones was “disappointed” with the Supreme Court’s split decision.

“There are clearly substantial public policy issues presented within the moving papers, and we respectfully disagree that an appeal after a trial is the only remedy when there are multiple violations of Judge Jones’ constitutional rights to due process,” Jimmerson said. “We look forward to presenting our case on the merits before the trial court Tuesday and in the months thereafter.”

Commission lawyers contend the judge’s due process rights were protected during the investigation and that the 11th-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 formally 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.

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.

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

 

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