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Jones case costs Judicial Discipline Commission over $180k

The Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline spent at least $183,300 — more than three-fourths of its publicly funded fiscal budget in 2014 — pursuing a case against suspended Family Court Judge Steven Jones, according to its executive director.

“It’s outrageous,” Paul Deyhle said Tuesday. “It’s just one case, and it essentially wiped out our entire operating budget for the fiscal year.”

The commission’s budget for July 1, 2013, to June 30 was $240,269.

Deyhle said the Jones case has hindered the commission’s ability to investigate allegations of misconduct against other judges in the state.

“When you have a big case like this and have to take away resources for it, things get backed up,” he said. “There’s just so much we can do.”

The commission suspended Jones with pay Nov. 30, 2012, following his unrelated federal indictment in what federal prosecutors say was a $3 million investment scheme.

Since then, Jones has collected his $200,000 annual salary in all but three months. He has earned an estimated $266,000 and can look forward to receiving another $100,000 by the time his term on the bench is up at the end of the year.

The commission’s investigation of Jones became public in late December 2012, when it filed a formal statement of charges against the judge accusing him of mis­handling a romantic relationship with a prosecutor who appeared before him.

Deyhle said the panel has spent more than $183,300 investigating Jones over the past several years, but has only tracked its money in the case from the start of the 2014 fiscal year to April 15.

The money went to pay support staff, investigators and two special prosecutors to file and try the charges in front of the seven-member judicial commission, Deyhle said. Funds also were spent fighting legal efforts by Jones all the way to the Nevada Supreme Court to delay the disciplinary proceedings.

The commission also had to foot the bill for two public hearings — a week-long one in December to hear witnesses and evidence against Jones and a day-long proceeding in February to hand out punishment, Deyhle said.

At the February hearing the commission suspended Jones without pay for three months, finding that he had violated professional rules of conduct during his relationship with Lisa Willardson, the late former deputy district attorney.

Willardson, who had child welfare cases before Jones while dating him, was found dead at her Henderson home Dec. 26, and the coroner concluded she died of an accidental drug overdose.

Jones, 56, who has been on the bench since 1993, went back on the public payroll in May, but remained suspended because of the federal indictment.

Jones, his former brother-in-law Thomas Cecrle and four other defendants are facing an array of charges, including conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud, securities fraud and money laundering in the decade-long investment scheme.

The indictment alleged Jones used the power of his office to further the scheme, which occurred between 2002 and 2012, and intervened on Cecrle’s behalf to prevent or delay legal processes against him.

All six defendants are to stand trial in September before U.S. District Judge Jennifer Dorsey.

Even if Jones winds up being convicted, Deyhle said, he likely will continue being paid by the taxpayers until his term expires at the end of the year.

When it looked as though the judge’s federal trial would get underway the first week of June, the judicial commission was determined to pursue a second, more serious disciplinary case against Jones at the conclusion of the trial.

That case, in the making since 2006, includes allegations Jones was involved in several investment schemes, associated with felons, improperly handled drug evidence and once had an “intimate relationship” with a law student who worked for him.

But the federal trial was delayed until Sept. 30, putting a crimp in the commission’s plans.

The trial could last the entire month of October, and Deyhle said that doesn’t leave enough time for the commission to go through the process of bringing the other disciplinary case against Jones to a public conclusion before Dec. 31.

Attorney Sigal Chattah, who is defending Jones in that case, did not want to comment.

If Jones is found guilty at his federal trial, the commission could take the less complicated route and seek his permanent removal from the bench based on his conviction.

But even that likely couldn’t be done by the end of the year, Deyhle said.

Jones, it turns out, may leave the bench under a cloud while the taxpayers pay him handsomely for it.

Contact Jeff German at jgerman@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-8135. Find him on Twitter: @JGermanRJ.

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