Precedent apparently means nothing to the Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline. On Monday, the panel decided already-suspended Family Court Judge Steven Jones deserved only a concurrent suspension for deliberately compromising the integrity of the bench. Jones’ appalling misconduct and ensuing arrogance justified his removal from office and a lifetime ban from the bench — especially when considering the actions of judges previously kicked out of court.
Jones dated Lisa Willardson, a prosecutor who appeared before him, never disclosing the relationship or disqualifying himself from her cases. He created a powerful conflict of interest and tried to keep it secret. Just as bad, however, was Jones’ response once the relationship was exposed by other prosecutors (leading to Ms. Willardson’s firing) and reported by the Review-Journal: He sought payback against the district attorney’s office, then used his office to support Ms. Willardson’s response to a resulting State Bar complaint against her. He willfully abused the public’s trust again and again.
For this, Jones was given a three-month suspension without pay and a censure. But Jones already is on paid suspension pending his trial on federal fraud charges. He’ll keep his job until his term expires at the end of the year.
Consider that the commission removed from office Family Court Judge Nicholas Del Vecchio in 2008 for sexual improprieties and for being a disgusting creep, but not for misconduct on the bench. The commission removed Family Court Judge Fran Fine in 1998 for excluding one party in a case from her communications with the other party. And the commission bounced North Las Vegas Municipal Court Judge Gary Davis in 1995 for borrowing money from court employees and endorsing political candidates. Jones’ misconduct was, at a minimum, as bad as all the above.
There is a cost for the commission’s paltry punishment. Jones, who collected his entire $200,000 salary last year while on suspension, will collect an additional $150,000 this year while on suspension. Thanks for nothing, commissioners.