District Attorney David Roger said Friday he is launching a grand jury investigation into allegations Family Court Judge Steven Jones and fired prosecutor Lisa Willardson lied in sworn affidavits this week about the extent of their budding romantic relationship.
“We are going to open a grand jury investigation into potential perjury charges,” Roger said. “As a prosecutor for 25 years, I have found that most people hang themselves trying to cover up their conduct, and this case appears to be no different.”
Roger, who leaves office Jan. 3, said he decided to open the investigation after newly discovered emails from Willardson’s office computer showed that the relationship between Jones and the former prosecutor may have begun while Willardson was still handling child welfare cases before the judge.
Both denied in their affidavits that they were seeing each other while Willardson appeared in front of the judge.
“Based upon the emails we have uncovered, it appears that both affidavits may be false,” Roger said. “That’s a serious matter and warrants further investigating.”
Roger, who earlier this week filed a complaint against Jones over the romantic relationship with the Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline, said his office will issue grand jury subpoenas for records of calls and texts on the cellphones of both Jones, 53, and Willardson, 43.
Jones’ lawyer, James Jimmerson, responded: “I have personally interviewed Ms. Willardson and the Honorable Steven Jones, as well as other individuals, and I am personally satisfied that their dating relationship did not commence until after Oct. 31.
“While I have not met Ms Willardson before this issue arose, I know of the integrity of Judge Jones, and he adheres to the highest ethical standards.”
Willardson, who was fired as a deputy in the district attorney’s child welfare unit last week, could not be reached for comment.
Prosecutors filed copies of the emails from Willardson’s computer in court on Friday as part of a motion seeking to disqualify Jones from a child welfare case because of his “personal bias” against the two whistle-blowing deputies who exposed the relationship between Jones and Willardson. Jones had banned the prosecutors, Michelle Edwards and Janne Hanrahan, from his courtroom.
The prosecutors, who worked in the same unit with Willardson, had given supervisors a photo Edwards took of Willardson and Jones appearing cozy with each other at an Oct. 28 office restaurant gathering. Edwards, who snapped the photo with her cellphone, 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.
Because of a potential conflict of interest, supervisors ended up removing Willardson from handling cases before Jones on Oct. 31.
This week Jimmerson filed court papers responding to the district attorney’s motion, attempting to turn the tables on the two whistle-blowing prosecutors.
He called Edwards and Hanrahan “errant employees” who, while engaging in “alcohol-influenced speculation,” snapped a photo of the judge’s “crotch” under a table and called for a criminal investigation into their conduct. Roger defended their actions.
In his court papers, Jimmerson submitted sworn affidavits from both Jones and Willardson.
“Ms. Willardson had not practiced law in my courtroom a single time since we began seeing each other in November 2011,” Jones wrote.
Willardson said in her affidavit that her romantic relationship with Jones was “non-existent” at the time she was removed from appearing before Jones.
But the emails uncovered by the district attorney’s office appear to contradict those statements.
In an Oct. 26 email to a couple of attorneys, Willardson wrote, “Heads up. Steve Jones and I are dating. Unfortunately, it is becoming more known around the courthouse. If it should come up at some point, (I) don’t want you to be totally blindsided.”
That same day, in an email to the judge’s law clerk, Himanshu Rattan, Willardson referred to Jones as the “honorable (and freakin’ HOT) Steven E. Jones.”
Willardson also discussed the relationship in an Oct. 27 email to P.J. Moore, a county family services worker: “Between us — seeing someone new and I’m absolutely in love with him — OMG (oh my God) – It’s craziness …”
Three days earlier on Oct. 24, Willardson wrote Rattan that she was looking for a new trial date in a case, saying, “It’s my understanding that the Hot Steven E. Jones will not be on the bench.”
Then, in a series of emails from Oct. 17 to Oct 20, Willardson and Jones appear to be flirting with each other as they set up a lunch date and discuss it afterward.
“Hey there, long time no see,” Jones wrote on Oct. 17. “I very much enjoyed chatting with you until we were interrupted. Geez, the nerve of some people! Actually, I enjoyed chatting with you despite the interruption, so the use of ‘until’ is inaccurate, I suppose.”
Jones continues, “So I was thinking we could pick up where we left off if we put our heads together and come up with a time that works. Calendars are hectic, so lunch may be easiest — if you don’t have plans for lunch in the near future let me know and I would be honored to accompany you!”
The next morning, on Oct. 18, Willardson wrote back wanting to know whether a response she previously had given the judge was “inappropriate.”
Jones responded, “Not at all!! You make me laugh!” Then, he suggested meeting the next day, a Wednesday, or waiting several days until the upcoming Monday.
Willardson wrote back, “I think you are ridiculously hot — now that’s inappropriate.”
After the judge then asked which day would be best to go to lunch, Willardson responded, “I don’t want to wait until Monday … So tomorrow it is.”
The two decided to meet at Romano’s Macaroni Grill on West Sahara Avenue.
Jones suggested meeting at 11:30 a.m. “That would give us time to chat without rushing,” he wrote Willardson on the morning of Oct. 19.
After lunch, at 1:34 p.m., Jones sent Willardson an email saying, “A lot of fun!! Thanks!!”
Willardson responded, “It was so much fun. …!! !! !! You are so awesome (and HOT …:)) :)).”
Jones responded the next day telling Willardson, “We need to get back there and win the trip to Italy!!”