To anyone who has followed the long, pathetic saga of disgraced Family Court Judge Steven Jones, this month’s vote by the Judicial Discipline Commission to ban him from the bench for life may seem like overkill.
After all, Jones has resigned from the judicial seat he first won in 1992 after pleading guilty in an investment fraud scheme. He’s been permanently disbarred. As a convicted felon, he’d need a presidential pardon in order to have his civil rights restored.
But there’s still a chance — however remote — that Jones could someday seek to return to public life, to petition for a pardon, for his law license or for a spot on the bench somewhere.
That’s one of the reasons the commission is seeking to ban Jones from ever serving as a judge again.
And there are plenty of reasons to do so, any one of which alone should be enough to demonstrate Jones’s unsuitability for the bench.
First, after a lengthy investigation, the commission in 2013 found Jones presided over cases despite maintaining a personal, romantic relationship with Deputy District Attorney Lisa Willardson while she was appearing before him. Such a staggering lack of judgment not only puts the outcome of cases in peril, it erodes public confidence in the judiciary as well.
The investigation into Jones cost the commission more than $183,000 — more than three-fourths of its entire annual budget. The saga ended in tragedy when Ms. Willardson was found dead of an apparent suicide.
Second, Jones pleaded guilty to defrauding 50 people of money in an investment scheme in which he used his status as a judge to reassure investors that their money was safe, once again abusing his office and degrading public confidence in the judiciary.
Third, Jones saw nothing wrong with collecting his $200,000 annual pay for months, despite being suspended as a result of his indictment on the federal fraud charges. The commission managed to suspend him without pay for three months because of his misconduct with Ms. Willardson, a brief and rare victory for taxpayers.
But now, Nevada has cut ties with the disgraced judge. And thus it should remain. Jones has demonstrated egregious contempt for the bench, for the litigants in his courtroom and for the public. He’s brought disgrace to the judiciary. And he has proved by his conduct — and his own guilty plea — that he’s unfit to ever wear the robes again. During his sentencing, he told U.S. District Court Judge Jennifer Dorsey that, “I can assure you that I will never find myself in a position like this again.”
But his word isn’t good enough. The commission needs to ensure Jones is never allowed to return to the bench and to abuse its powers. It should vote to permanently ban him from the bench, and finally end the long-running saga of Steven Jones.