Suspended Family Court Judge Steven Jones withdrawing from re-election bid

Suspended Family Court Judge Steven Jones on Monday told a judicial panel considering his possible removal from the bench that he is withdrawing from his re-election campaign.

“You are not going to see me back again,” Jones told the Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline, as the panel met to determine how to punish Jones over his romantic relationship with the late prosecutor Lisa Willardson.

Five lawyers have filed to run against Jones, whose term is up at the end December, as his popularity has plummeted amid the scandal and an unrelated federal fraud indictment against him.

The announcement by Jones and his lead defense lawyer, James J. Jimmerson, came as a surprise to the judicial commission.

Special prosecutor William Cooper speculated in his closing argument Monday that Jones was seeking a lighter punishment from the panel.

Jones faces a wide range of possible sanctions over his affair with Willardson, including removal from office.

The seven-member commission deliberated on the judge’s fate late Monday afternoon and indicated it would make public a written decision in a few days.

Last month, the commission found that special prosecutors proved “by clear and convincing evidence” eight of 12 charges filed against Jones in December 2012 related to his relationship with Willardson.

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 first 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 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.

The commission ruled prosecutors proved three counts that were tied directly to the judge’s relationship with Willardson between October and December 2011.

Two of the counts alleged Jones improperly maintained the relationship with Willardson while she “actively 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 a push by then-Clark County 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 complaint against her stemming from their romantic relationship.

On Monday, Jones testified 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 on his relationship with Willardson, for “crucifying” him over the past year.

Jimmerson later told the commission in his closing argument that Jones had been unfairly “slaughtered” in the media.

“Enough is enough,” Jimmerson said, in urging the commission to go easy on Jones. “That pound of flesh has already been extracted many times over from Judge Jones.” Jimmerson said a reprimand or an order to attend professional training would be a fair punishment.

But Cooper told the commission that prosecutors had met the burden to remove Jones from office, adding he had trouble believing Jones was suddenly remorseful for his actions.

The 2011 relationship between Jones and Willardson had “dramatic repercussions” on the Family Court system, Cooper argued.

Roger, who prompted the commission’s investigation by filing a complaint against Jones, testified that the judge had “abandoned” his role to remain fair and objective in child welfare cases.

The judge’s actions “tarnished” Family Court and enhanced the public cynicism of the court, Roger said.

Former Nevada Supreme Court Justice Nancy Becker told the commission that she believed Jones used his judicial position in 2011 to “retaliate” against the district attorney’s office for exposing his relationship with Willardson. At the time, Becker was a chief deputy district attorney in the appellant division.

She testified that she had never seen such a case of “institutional bias” from a judge.

Becker said Jones was “extremely antagonistic” toward the office, and it created a “very awkward situation.”

Former Chief Deputy District Attorney Mary Brown, who ran the Juvenile Division, testified that the relationship harmed the district attorney’s efforts to move child welfare cases through the court system.

It also created animosity between deputies in the child welfare unit and a rift between the office and Jones and other Family Court judges, Brown testified.

She said for the first time in her career at the district attorney’s office she felt the need to lock her office at night.

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 set for March, but is expected to be continued.

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