District attorney files complaint against family court judge

District Attorney David Roger filed a complaint with the Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline on Tuesday against Family Court Judge Steven Jones over the judge’s budding romantic relationship with a former prosecutor who appeared before him.

Roger said he hand-delivered the complaint Tuesday morning to the commission in Carson City while he was attending a district attorney’s conference.

“I feel that a number of entities should review his conduct, and the Judicial Discipline Commission is the governing body that reviews judicial ethics violations,” Roger said.

He would not discuss the specifics of his complaint or provide the Las Vegas Review-Journal with a copy . But he said the complaint involves Jones’ relationship with the former prosecutor, Lisa Willardson, and the judge’s conduct after the relationship was exposed.

“If the commission decides to open an investigation, it will dispatch investigators to Las Vegas in short order to interview witnesses,” Roger said.

Late Tuesday, Jones’ attorney James Jimmerson responded, “It’s regrettable that the district attorney has felt the need to stoop to that level, to file a groundless complaint. Having not seen the complaint, I think it would be wise not to comment further.”

Earlier in the day, Jimmerson attempted to turn the tables on the two whistle-blowing prosecutors who exposed the romantic relationship. He filed court papers on Jones’ behalf calling for a criminal investigation of the two whistle-blowers he called “errant employees” who, while engaging in “alcohol-influenced speculation,” snapped a photo of the judge’s “crotch” under a table .

The photo led to a confrontation between the judge and the district attorney’s office over his involvement with Willardson, who worked in the child welfare unit with the other two prosecutors, Michelle Edwards and Janne Hanrahan.

Roger removed Willardson, 43, from handling cases before Jones and fired her last week.

On Tuesday, Chief District Judge Jennifer Togliatti removed herself from deciding a motion Roger had filed to disqualify Jones from a child welfare case. The motion alleged the judge had a “personal bias” against the whistle-blowing deputies.

Togliatti said she preferred to seek a broader administrative solution to the rift between Jones and the district attorney’s office and could not do that if she also had to decide the disqualification motion. Togliatti said she would assign another judge to hear any motions the district attorney files against Jones .

Roger sought to disqualify Jones, 53, after the judge banned Edwards and Hanrahan from his courtroom.

The prosecutors had given supervisors a photo Edwards took of Willardson and Jones appearing cozy with each other at an Oct. 31 retirement party for a prosecutor in the child welfare unit. Edwards believed Jones had put his hand on Willardson’s jeans-covered leg. The photo appears to show the judge’s hand moving toward Willardson’s leg or moving away from it.

In his court papers, Jimmerson included sworn affidavits from Jones and Willardson denying they were in a relationship on Oct. 31 or at any time when Willardson appeared before the judge.

“The salacious tale spun by the state with regard to this alleged relationship is a red herring designed to deflect attention from the state’s own unprofessional, unethical and adolescent and possibly criminal conduct,” Jimmerson wrote.

He accused the “two inebriated young women” of engaging in “watercooler gossip, speculating about a relationship that did not yet even exist.”

Jimmerson said the district attorney’s allegation that the relationship between Jones and Willardson created unethical behavior is “fabricated” and “offered to cover up the potentially criminal behavior of two misguided deputies.

Jones banned the two deputies from his courtroom to “preserve the integrity of the judicial system,” Jimmerson said, adding that both Togliatti and Gloria Sanchez, the presiding Family Court judge, had approved the prohibition.

Roger on Tuesday said Edwards and Hanrahan acted properly. “The two deputies took a picture of the judge and Ms. Willardson in order to expose what they believed to be a relationship that would create an appearance of a conflict of interest. They did nothing wrong, and they will not be disciplined by me.”

Jimmerson suggested in his court papers that the Nevada attorney general’s office or a special prosecutor should investigate Edwards and Hanrahan.

Jimmerson also provided a sworn affidavit from Family Court Administrator Leonard Cash, who denied Roger’s allegation that he acted on behalf of Jones when he called the district attorney to get him to back off reassigning Willardson.

“The remarks attributed to me in his motion are factually inaccurate,” Cash said. “I did not represent that I was making the call on behalf of Judge Jones, nor did I make any requests on his behalf. My call to Mr. Roger was a personal one to discuss my thoughts on trying to resolve the matter before any orders or motions were filed.”

Roger responded, “He works at the pleasure of the Family Court judges, and I’ll let that statement speak for itself.”

Contact Jeff German at jgerman@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-8135.

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