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Disciplinary panel cancels Judge Jones hearing after Supreme Court intervenes

Suspended Family Court Judge Steven Jones won’t have to publicly face allegations next week that he mishandled a romantic relationship with a prosecutor who appeared before him.

The Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline canceled its expected week-long hearing Friday after the Nevada Supreme Court granted a temporary stay of the proceeding.

Because of the logistics of getting together the large number of witnesses in the case, the proceeding likely won’t be held for another several months, commission lawyer Gregory Kamer said during a District Court hearing.

The Supreme Court issued an order Friday halting the disciplinary hearing until at least Aug. 2 while it considers a brief filed by Jones’ lawyer, James Jimmerson, seeking to dismiss the judicial commission’s 12-count complaint against Jones.

“Having reviewed the petition and the supporting documents, we conclude that a temporary stay is warranted,” a three-justice panel wrote in its order. “Further, it appears that Judge Jones has set forth issues of arguable merit and that he may have no plain, speedy and adequate remedy in the ordinary course of law.”

The Supreme Court panel ordered the commission to respond to Jimmerson’s brief by 4 p.m. Monday and gave Jimmerson until Wednesday to reply.

The high court’s intervention caused District Judge Michael Villani to stay until Aug. 8 a decision on Jimmerson’s simultaneous effort in the lower court to block the disciplinary proceeding, which was to get underway in Las Vegas on Monday. Both sides agreed to the stay.

Jimmerson is independently seeking a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction in District Court to bar the judicial commission from taking action against Jones.

The judge assigned to hear the matter, Kathleen Delaney, plans to return Aug. 6 from a trip outside the county.

Kamer urged Villani, who was filling in for Delaney, not to take action on the restraining order while the Supreme Court is reviewing the case. The commission contends the Supreme Court is the proper venue to deal with issues involving the judicial panel.

“This is a historical case,” Kamer said. “We’re not looking here at one judge. We’re looking at the sanctity of the court system of the state of Nevada, and we don’t want to make a mistake.”

In a mass of court papers, Jimmerson argued the seven-member commission blatantly violated Jones’ constitutional due process rights during its high-profile investigation.

Lawyers for the commission responded that the judge’s due process rights were protected and that the last-minute effort to derail the disciplinary proceeding was a ploy to avoid possible sanctions for his alleged misconduct.

In its order Friday, the Supreme Court panel instructed the judicial commission to specifically address several of Jimmerson’s due process violation claims, including alleged flaws in preparing the commission’s investigative report and turning over evidence to Jones.

Jones, 54, first elected to Family Court in 1992, is accused of violating Nevada’s Judicial Code of Conduct and faces possible sanctions ranging from a private reprimand to removal from office.

According to a 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 failed to 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.

But the professional organization sent her a “letter of caution” suggesting 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 commission suspended the longtime judge 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 on March 3, has continued to receive his $200,000 annual salary.

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

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