December 19, 2011 - 6:52 pm
More allegations and legal fallout surfaced Monday over the budding romantic relationship between fired Deputy District Attorney Lisa Willardson and Family Court Judge Steven Jones.
In a sworn affidavit, a county social worker alleged that she saw Willardson lose her focus in the middle of a case before another judicial official on Nov. 22 while Willardson and Jones were repeatedly text messaging each other.
In one of the courtroom texts, Willardson told Jones that he was “hot,” said Georgina Stuart, a senior family services specialist assigned to Child Protective Services.
Willardson, who had appeared regularly before Jones as a deputy in the district attorney’s child welfare unit, was transferred on Dec. 1 to another unit that did not bring cases before Jones. A couple of weeks before the text-messaging incident, she was removed from cases heard by the judge.
On another front, Willardson’s former supervisor, Chief Deputy District Attorney Ron Cordes, said in a sworn affidavit that he was investigating a request to “reopen or dismiss” a case Willardson had brought against a “litigant” in Jones’ court because of a possible conflict of interest over Willardson’s relationship with the judge.
“I am in the process of determining whether the case was litigated during the period of time where a conflict may have existed,” Cordes said.
He said the litigant told him Thursday that he filed a motion in the case, but Jones denied the motion though Willardson had not filed an opposition.
The affidavits were submitted as supplements to a motion District Attorney David Roger filed last week in Family Court seeking to disqualify Jones from another child welfare case because of his “personal bias” against the two whistle-blowing deputies who exposed the romance. Chief District Judge Jennifer Togliatti has set a 1:30 p.m. hearing today on the motion.
Jones, 53, banned the two deputies, Michelle Edwards and Janne Hanrahan, from his courtroom, accusing them of “inappropriate and unprofessional behavior.” The deputies had given supervisors a clandestine photo taken of Willardson and Jones appearing cozy with each other at an Oct. 31 public function.
Willardson, 43, who was fired Dec. 13, contends that the allegations in Roger’s motion are “factually incorrect” and that she was removed from the child welfare unit before she struck up a relationship with Jones.
In her affidavit, Stuart recalled that while children were testifying in the Nov. 22 case, Willardson’s cellphone was on vibrate and went off frequently. Willardson repeatedly texted back, which diverted her attention from a defense attorney’s cross-examination of the children, Stuart said.
“When cross-examination was completed,” Stuart said, “Ms. Willardson asked me, ‘What should I ask?’ and ‘Is there anything I am missing?’ Ms. Willardson’s questions indicated to me that Ms. Willardson had not been paying full attention to the children’s cross-examination.”
Stuart said that after Willardson left the counsel table to ask the children questions, her phone lit up and vibrated again. The call was coming from Jones.
At one point, Stuart said, Jones texted Willardson asking which courtroom she was in. Willardson told Jones in a text that she was going to win the case because “these people don’t know what they’re doing.”
Stuart said she had to testify in one of Willardson’s cases before Jones that day. Cordes told Stuart that he would be prosecuting the case instead of Willardson, but Willardson ended up sitting in the back of the courtroom to observe.
“While I was testifying, Ms. Willardson smiled and waved at me and gave me the thumbs-up sign,” Stuart wrote.
On another occasion, Jones came to watch Willardson make a courtroom appearance before a hearing master who works under the judge, Stuart said.
The day before Willardson was fired, Stuart said, the prosecutor indicated that her relationship with Jones was “very serious” and that she was “likely going to marry” him.
In an email response Monday, Willardson questioned the credibility of Stuart’s affidavit but did not deny that she had been text messaging with Jones.
Willardson also said for the first time that she started dating Jones in November.
“Once we began a dating relationship, it was very out in the open,” she said. “In fact, I believe some criticized us for being too open about the relationship. If people asked me questions about him, I answered — I had absolutely nothing to hide.”
Willardson said she was removed from appearing in the judge’s courtroom following the Oct 31 public function, before she went on a date with him, and never appeared in his courtroom again.
Jones did not return phone calls. He has been preparing his written response to Roger’s motion and has criticized the district attorney for condoning the actions of the deputies.
Contact Jeff German at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-8135.