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October 20, 2014

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Suspended judge seeks leniency from state panel, will end re-election bid

Updated Monday, Jan. 27, 2014 | 5:01 p.m.

Judge Steve Jones

Judge Steve Jones

An embattled Las Vegas-area family court judge and his lawyer pleaded Monday for leniency from a state disciplinary panel considering how to punish the judge for presiding over cases handled by a prosecutor he was dating.

"I guess I'm just asking you to do what every judge should do," said Judge Steven Jones, who faces possible sanctions from the Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline ranging from a reprimand to removal, "that's to be fair, objective and understanding."

Jones was suspended from the bench with pay more than a year ago, after his indictment in October 2012 with five other people on federal criminal fraud charges.

Jones is accused in that case of using the power of his office to boost a $3 million investment fraud scheme. He continues to draw his $200,000 per year salary while awaiting trial, currently scheduled to begin in March.

The commission found separately in December that Jones failed to recuse himself from cases his girlfriend, Lisa Ann Willardson, handled in his courtroom; tried to block then-District Attorney David Roger from removing Willardson from the child welfare division that prosecuted cases before Jones; and used his judicial office to help Willardson defend herself against a Nevada State Bar complaint stemming from their relationship.

Jones addressed the panel Monday in Reno. The hearing was linked by closed-circuit television with commission officials in a room at the Regional Justice Center courthouse in Las Vegas.

Jones' attorney, James J. Jimmerson, spoke for 45 minutes about how Jones had been "crucified" in media accounts of his affair with Willardson, and promised that Jones would drop his bid for another term on the Clark County District Court bench. Jones was first elected to the family court bench in 1992.

Jimmerson said he hoped the commission would decide a public sanction was sufficient punishment. Removal would prohibit Jones from serving as a judge again.

"Enough is enough. A pound of flesh has already been extracted," Jimmerson said. "You have done quite a bit to grab this judge's attention and have him understand his foibles, weaknesses and judgment that wasn't the best on some of this."

When he referred to Willardson's recent unexplained death, Jimmerson drew a sharp protest from commission special prosecutor William Cooper.

Willardson, 45, was found dead Dec. 26 at her home in Henderson, two days after the commission issued a ruling that Jones violated judicial conduct rules.

"The pressure of all this led to the death of his girlfriend," Jimmerson declared. Cooper interrupted to say that Jimmerson was assuming facts that weren't yet proved.

"She wasn't murdered," Jimmerson replied, "and it was either natural causes or she committed suicide. The pressure of this case undoubtedly had an effect on her."

Jones told authorities he found Willardson's body when he went to check on her after returning to Las Vegas from a trip to Utah with his children. Jimmerson has said Jones became worried because Willardson hadn't responded to his text messages.

Clark County Coroner Michael Murphy said Monday a ruling on the cause of death won't be available for several more weeks, after toxicology tests determine whether Willardson had drugs or alcohol in her system.

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