weather icon Clear

Fired prosecutor, tied romantically to judge, faces Bar inquiry

The district attorney’s office this week filed a complaint with the Nevada State Bar against the fired prosecutor who became romantically involved with Family Court Judge Steven Jones.

State Bar Counsel David Clark confirmed Friday that the complaint was filed against Lisa Willardson and that his organization, which regulates lawyers, was investigating.

The complaint accuses Willardson of violating the rules of professional conduct for lawyers, including lying in a sworn affidavit about her relationship with Jones.

“In recent months, we have discovered numerous acts of misconduct that bear directly on her fitness to practice law,” wrote Chief Deputy District Attorney Mary Brown, one of Willardson’s former Juvenile Division supervisors, in a letter accompanying the complaint.

“In doing so,” the complaint said, “Ms. Willardson undermined the integrity of the legal profession and imperiled the public’s confidence in the child welfare system, specifically, and the entire judicial system, generally.”

The complaint alleged that Willardson, who appeared regularly before Jones, schemed with the judge to keep their relationship secret.

“Despite the fact that their relationship created an appearance of impropriety,” the complaint said, “Ms. Willardson did not disclose her dating relationship with Judge Jones at the time it developed and, in fact, lied to cover up the romantic entanglement.”

While Willardson was no longer appearing before the judge but still assigned to the district attorney’s child welfare unit, Jones was a “frequent visitor” to her office, spending “extended periods of time” there with the door shut and sometimes locked, the complaint said.

That created the improper appearance that Jones was aligned with the district attorney’s office at a time when he was deciding child welfare cases, the complaint said.

“Judge Jones’ conduct fell below that expected of judicial officers in this regard, and Ms. Willardson’s assistance of Judge Jones in this regard is a violation of professional ethics,” the complaint said.

Willardson, 43, who was fired Dec. 13, said in an email Friday that she was not surprised by the Bar complaint.

She said she expected the “baseless retaliation” from District Attorney David Roger and others in his office who will be the subject of “multiple bar complaints” over “egregious lawyer misconduct.”

“I welcome the scrutiny of the bar because it appears that will be the only venue, until the appropriate civil suits are filed, in which their actions will be properly addressed and scrutinized,” Willardson wrote.

Clark said the Bar investigation will determine whether there are grounds to proceed with a formal hearing on the allegations and possible disciplinary action.

The Bar complaint came as investigators with the Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline began interviewing witnesses this week as part of an ethics inquiry into the way Jones, 53, handled the relationship with Willardson.

Last week, Roger launched a grand jury investigation into allegations that Jones and Willardson lied about the extent of their romance in sworn affidavits filed in court. They contended that they didn’t start dating until November, after Willardson was removed from prosecuting cases before the judge. But emails from Willardson’s office computer showed the relationship may have begun while Willardson was still appearing before Jones.

In an Oct. 26 email to two lawyers, Willardson admitted she was in a dating relationship with Jones. That same day, she referred to Jones in an email to his law clerk as the “honorable (and freakin’ HOT) Steven E. Jones.”

Other emails from Oct. 17 to Oct. 20 show Willardson and Jones flirting with each other as they set up a lunch date and discussing it afterward.

Prosecutors filed copies of the emails in Family Court as part of a motion to disqualify Jones from a child welfare case because of his “personal bias” against the two whistle-blowing prosecutors who helped expose the romantic relationship.

The judge had banned deputy district attorneys Michelle Edwards and Janne Hanrahan, who worked with Willardson, from his courtroom.

Edwards and Hanrahan had given supervisors a photo Edwards took of Willardson and Jones sitting close to each other at an Oct. 28 office restaurant gathering. Edwards, who snapped the photo with her cellphone, thought Jones had put his hand on Willardson’s jeans-covered leg.

Attorney James Jimmerson, who represents Jones, has said the allegations leveled against the judge are “groundless.”

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.