Tale of courtroom romance hard to unravel

Advice to couples with conflicts: Don’t pick a fight with someone who can launch a grand jury probe and subpoena your texts and emails.

Family Court Judge Steven Jones and fired prosecutor Lisa Willardson now find themselves looking like they lied in sworn affidavits when they said they didn’t begin dating until November. Their emails in October suggest that’s not true, and District Attorney David Roger is asking a grand jury to sort out whether the couple perjured themselves.

The date of their admitted romance is key because of an obvious conflict if they dated while Jones was deciding child abuse and neglect cases she was prosecuting.

This daytime soap started when two prosecutors snapped an under-the-table photo of the judge’s hand in close proximity to Willardson’s knee at an Oct. 28 party.

Deputy District Attorneys Janne Hanrahan and Michelle Edwards (the photographer), took their concerns, and the photo, to their supervisors the following Monday.

When Jones found out, he ordered them banned from his court. Roger countered by filing a motion asking Jones be disqualified from hearing their cases. Bottom line: The judge wants the two prosecutors out of his courtroom, and the DA believes the judge should be disqualified from hearing Edwards’ and Hanrahan’s cases.

They both want the same result, but the judge wants it done his way while the DA wants it done his way, each man refusing to yield to the other.

Meanwhile, Chief Family Court Judge Gloria Sanchez, Family Court Judge Frank Sullivan and Leonard Cash, the assistant court administrator, entered the fray taking the side of the romancing judge. They submitted affidavits saying Chief Deputy District Attorney Mary Brown’s affidavit to disqualify Jones was inaccurate.

Sanchez swore she never said she had received a complaint about Jones and his new romantic interest, Williardson, until Dec. 2, when she met with Brown. Sanchez denied she said someone had complained to her about seeing Jones and Willardson in a public area of the courthouse embracing and kissing.

Sullivan said Jones "did not attempt to persuade me to honor his recusal list" and ban the two prosecutors from his courtroom.

Cash also listed inaccuracies about Brown’s affidavit, citing meetings and phone calls.

In another twist, Jones proposed that the two prosecutors, who he described as misguided and inebriated, should be prosecuted for violating a state law against taking surreptitious photos of people’s private areas without their consent.

Never going to happen. I’ve seen the picture, and it’s not a "crotch" shot as Jones characterized it.

The most astonishing thing I read in the DA’s motion to disqualify Jones was the claim that Jones wanted Willardson to continue hearing cases before him and thought it would be OK if he just disclosed their relationship to the opposing attorney.

What defense attorney would agree to hear a case by a judge romancing the prosecutor?

Brown and Chief Deputy District Attorney Ron Cordes met with Jones on Oct. 31. "Judge Jones stated he did not perceive a conflict of interest or appearance of impropriety. Judge Jones specifically requested the District Attorney’s office allow Ms. Willardson to remain on the abuse-and-neglect team and in his courtroom. Judge Jones suggested, as an alternative option, disclosing the relationship on the record in all of Ms. Willardson’s cases to afford litigants the opportunity to seek recusal on a case-by-case basis."

Here’s the judge’s version: "Judge Jones advised that if he were in a relationship he would not oppose having Ms. Willardson reassigned from his Courtroom. Judge Jones acknowledged that if they did enter into a dating relationship, reassigning Ms. Willardson from his courtroom would be appropriate and inevitable, and he did not object to the same."

Were these folks at the same meeting?

Too bad these meetings between prosecutors and judges weren’t taped. Then it would be obvious who is telling the truth and who is not.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. Email her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call her at (702) 383-0275. She also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/Morrison.

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