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October 25, 2014

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Las Vegas judge who dated former prosecutor finds her dead at home

Death occurs same day as state judicial panel finds ‘clear and convincing’ evidence that Jones guilty of misconduct

Updated Friday, Dec. 27, 2013 | 5 p.m.

A former prosecutor in Las Vegas was pronounced dead Thursday, hours after a state judicial discipline commission ruled her judge boyfriend committed misconduct by presiding over her cases while they were dating.

Clark County Family Court Judge Steven Jones found his girlfriend Lisa Ann Willardson, 45, in the bathroom of her Henderson home after he returned from a trip to Utah with his children, according to Jones' lawyer, James M. Jimmerson. She was pronounced dead a little before 7 p.m., although a cause and manner of death have not been determined and aren't expected until after toxicology tests are complete.

A Henderson Police spokeswoman deferred comments to the Clark County Coroner's Office.

Jimmerson said Jones went to Willardson's home to check on her after his text messages went unanswered.

"He's incredibly emotionally distraught. He can't put two sentences together," Jimmerson said of his client.

Willardson's death came the same day the Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline handed down a ruling critical of Jones, saying there was "clear and convincing evidence" to prove eight of 12 misconduct charges.

The commission set a hearing for Jan. 27 to consider possible sanctions that could include the judge's removal from the bench.

Jones was suspended from his post in November 2012 after being indicted by a federal grand jury in an unrelated fraud case. Authorities allege he misused the power of his office as part of a $3 million investment fraud scheme. He continues to draw his $200,000 per year salary while he awaits a March trial.

Johnny Jackson, who managed Willardson's campaign for a judgeship, said she was depressed about Jones' troubles when he talked to her on Christmas and "blamed herself a little bit."

She "fell in love, head over heels in love, and people frown on that," Jackson said. "The media kind of hung her out to dry."

Former Clark County District Attorney David Roger sought an investigation by the judicial commission, which filed the misconduct charges against the judge in December 2012.

In a hearing earlier this month, the commission's special counsel, William Cooper, described emails and text messages that revealed the couple's romance. In one message to a Jones assistant on Oct. 17, 2011, Willardson described Jones as "freaking hot."

In another message to a lawyer on Oct. 20, Willardson said she was dating Jones and acknowledged that people at the courthouse were becoming aware.

Commission members said Jones was asked by attorneys in contested cases to recuse himself because of his romantic ties to Willardson, but he refused.

Roger removed Willardson from handling child abuse and neglect cases before Jones after the relationship became public in October 2011. He later fired her.

The news of Willardson's death came as a shock to attorney Robert Flummerfelt, who was representing her in her bid to get back the job.

"My heart is broken," he said Friday. "I'm sitting here stunned."

Flummerfelt said Willardson's termination was "devastating" for her, and her reputation was marred in the controversy. He said she was "completely and totally committed to her case" against the district attorney's office.

Willardson had worked as a prosecutor without pay from 2009 to 2011 before she was hired, Flummerfelt said. She also took in foster children and was active in raising funds for victims of the recent typhoon in the Philippines.

"She was a giving person — that was her whole personality, that was her persona, that's who she was," he said. "She was always concerned about the welfare of children. ... They needed a voice and she provided that."

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