The slow-moving Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline finally banned ex-Judge Steven Jones from ever sitting on the bench again.

Closing what it said was a lengthy and “sad chapter” in the history of the state’s judiciary, the Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline late Tuesday banned former Family Court Judge Steven Jones from the bench for life.

In its unanimous decision, the seven-member commission said the imprisoned Jones was “forever banned” from serving in any judicial office, either elected or appointed, in the future.

The seven-page decision strongly rebuked Jones for thwarting the panel’s decade-long efforts to discipline him over “many troubling allegations of misconduct.”

The commission said Jones and his “cadre of attorneys” delayed the disciplinary proceedings at every turn, costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars..

“Consequently, the commission, one of the smallest agencies in the state of Nevada with one of the smallest operating budgets, was forced to divert an already bare-bones staff, engage outside counsel at considerable expense and exhaust limited resources and funds to legally respond to respondent’s ongoing diversionary tactics,” the panel wrote.

The only one to blame for this “spectacle of events and deceitful behavior” was Jones, the commission said.

At a hearing last month before the commission, the former judge’s latest lawyer, Scott MacDonald, described Jones as a “shell of man” and “fully and completely defeated.”

Jones’ admitted role in a nearly $3 million investment fraud scheme led to the lifetime ban.

In June commission prosecutors charged Jones with violating the Nevada Code of Judicial Conduct. They alleged his admission violated “public confidence and trust in the integrity of the judiciary” and abused the “prestige” of his judicial office to advance his own financial interests.

Jones, 57, had pleaded guilty in federal court in September 2014 to conspiracy to commit wire fraud in the scheme and then gave up his law license and resigned from the bench. Five other defendants, including his former brother-in-law Thomas Cecrle, pleaded guilty in the scheme.

Jones is now serving a 26-month sentence at a federal correctional facility near Bakersfield, Calif. He is scheduled to be released in April 2017, and federal prosecutors are pressing to take away his state pension.

In February 2014 the judicial commission suspended Jones without pay for three months after it cited him for an improper romantic relationship with a prosecutor who appeared before him in Family Court. The prosecutor, Lisa Willardson, died of a drug overdose in December 2013. She was fired from the Clark County district attorney’s office after the relationship became public.

Jones faced a series of additional allegations of professional misconduct in a separate case commission prosecutors put together. But the commission never got a chance to hold a hearing on the allegations.

In that case prosecutors alleged Jones associated with felons, improperly handled drug evidence and once had an “intimate relationship” with a law student who worked for him.

Nevada Judicial discipline panel weighs lifetime ban of former judge

A lawyer for former Family Court Judge Steven Jones described his client on Friday as “disgraced, disbarred, imprisoned, humiliated.”

Attorney Scott MacDonald told the Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline that he has visited Jones three times at a federal correctional facility in Taft, Calif.

“Emotionally and mentally, he’s a shell of the man I’ve known for many years,” the lawyer said. “I mean, he’s just fully and completely defeated.”

The commission held a 20-minute video conference Friday on the question of whether to ban Jones from the bench for life. The panel took the matter under advisement and has 20 days to issue a decision.

“I think the result is, candidly, a foregone conclusion,” MacDonald told the panel.

Kathleen Paustian, special counsel for the commission, asked for the lifetime ban Friday “on behalf of the citizens of Nevada.”

Commission prosecutors in June charged Jones with violating the Nevada Code of Judicial Conduct through his admitted role in a nearly $3 million investment fraud scheme.

Jones, 58, pleaded guilty in federal court in September 2014 to conspiracy to commit wire fraud in the decade-long scheme and then gave up his law license and resigned from the bench.

He is now serving a 26-month sentence at a facility near Bakersfield, Calif., and is scheduled for release in April 2017.

Some commissioners participated in Friday’s hearing from Carson City, and others participated from Las Vegas.

MacDonald, who has been licensed to practice law in Nevada since 1985, began his statement to the commission by asking for everyone’s indulgence.

“I haven’t been this nervous for a hearing since I was a first-year attorney,” he said. “I can’t entirely explain why.”

MacDonald then asked a rhetorical question: “How do you defend the indefensible?” He said that question has plagued him since Jones asked him to be involved in the matter.

“I have no case law or legal precedent to support any particular argument I could make today,” he added. “So I find myself in a rather awkward position.”

MacDonald said the proceedings seemed to have one purpose: to close a “fairly narrow loophole in the laws” by ensuring that Jones could never sit as a justice of the peace in the state’s rural counties, where law licenses are not required for such positions.

The lawyer then read from a Las Vegas Review-Journal article, which stated that Jones, a convicted felon who has been permanently disbarred, could never run for public office without a presidential pardon.

“I’m questioning the need to protect the citizens from that extremely narrow possibility,” MacDonald said.

Ex-judge Steven Jones faces lifetime ban from bench

The Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline is taking no chances to ensure that former Family Court judge Steven Jones never runs for judicial office again.

The seven-member panel voted unanimously earlier this month to seek a lifetime ban against Jones because of his federal conviction in a nearly $3 million investment fraud scheme.

This came as Jones, who was sentenced in February to 26 months in prison, has been permanently disbarred and, according to commission Executive Director Paul Deyhle, has lost his civil rights and can’t run for public office without a presidential pardon.

Without his law license, Jones also is prohibited from running for district court, the appeals court and the supreme court in Nevada, Deyhle said on Monday. Jones, however, could run for justice of the peace and municipal judge in some rural Nevada counties.

That was enough to prompt the Judicial Discipline Commission to take its latest action against Jones on April 10.

“The commission still wants to go forward and permanently remove him from the bench,” Deyhle said.

He said the commission is preparing a formal statement of charges against Jones.

What happens next, Deyhle said, is up to Jones, who gave up his longtime seat on the bench last year after he pleaded guilty in the investment scheme.

If Jones chooses to fight the lifetime ban, the commission will have to schedule a public hearing before making a final decision, Deyhle said. If Jones doesn’t contest the ban, the matter will be resolved without a hearing through a formal consent agreement.

The former judge’s lawyer, Sigal Chattah, declined to comment Monday.

“We haven’t seen the complaint yet and can’t comment on something we haven’t seen,” Chattah said.

The commission pursued misconduct charges for years against Jones, who was first elected to the bench in 1992. Last year, the panel spent $183,300 — more than three-fourths of its budget — trying to discipline Jones.

In December 2013, the judicial commission found that Jones had committed misconduct by maintaining a romantic relationship with former prosecutor Lisa Willardson while she appeared in cases before him. The panel later suspended Jones without pay for three months.

Two days after the commission’s decision was made public, Jones found Willardson’s body at her Henderson home, and the coroner later concluded she died of an accidental drug overdose.

Federal prosecutors ripped into Jones in court documents and at his sentencing for betraying the public’s trust in the investment scheme, saying he played an “integral” role in it while on the bench.

Five other defendants, including Jones’ former brother-in-law Thomas Cecrle, pleaded guilty in the scheme. Jones is to surrender to federal prison authorities on May 25.

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

– See more at: http://www.reviewjournal.com/news/las-vegas/ex-judge-steven-jones-faces-lifetime-ban-bench#sthash.TZUIvD9G.dpuf

Suspended Family Court Judge Jones pleads guilty in $2.6M fraud scheme

Suspended Family Court Judge Steven Jones pleaded guilty in federal court Wednesday to one felony count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud in a $2.6 million investment scheme.

A total of 19 other conspiracy, fraud and money laundering charges against Jones stemming from the decade-long scheme are being dismissed.

As part of his deal with federal prosecutors, Jones agreed to resign from the bench and surrender his law license to the State Bar of Nevada. His term runs out at the end of the year, and he is not running for re-election.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Steven Myhre and Daniel Schiess said in court that Jones was delivering a letter of resignation Wednesday to Gov. Brian Sandoval. The letter later was received by the governor’s office.

Jones also agreed to pay a still-undetermined amount of restitution to victims of the scheme.

When U.S. District Judge Jennifer Dorsey asked Jones how he wanted to plead to the conspiracy count, Jones simply said, “Guilty.”

Jones, who remains free on his own recognizance, and his lawyer Robert Draskovich refused to comment as they left the courtroom.

His guilty plea closed the book on a long-running investigation by the FBI’s public corruption squad in Las Vegas.

“Defendant Jones knowingly used his office to lull victims into a false sense of security about investments he knew were scams,” Nevada U.S. Attorney Daniel Bogden said after the plea. “No one is above the law, especially a person holding the office of judge.”

Prosecutors agreed not to ask for more than 27 months behind bars for Jones at his Jan. 26 sentencing. Jones could have received a dozen years in prison had he been convicted during his trial at the end of the month.

His four remaining co-defendants — Thomas Cecrle, 57, Mark Hansen, 56, Terry Wolfe, 59, and Constance Fenton, 70 — also pleaded guilty before Dorsey on Wednesday.

Cecrle, the judge’s former brother-in-law, is considered the central figure in the scheme. He pleaded guilty to the same conspiracy to commit wire fraud charge. So did Hansen and Wolfe. Fenton pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. All of the other defendants are free pending their Oct. 26 sentencings

Last month, co-defendant Ashlee Martin, 30, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering under a pretrial diversion agreement.

Jones, 56, first elected to the bench in 1992, and his five co-defendants were charged in a 20-count federal indictment in October 2012.

The indictment alleged that between September 2002 and October 2012, the defendants persuaded people to lend them money under the guise of quick repayment with high interest rates. The defendants indicated they needed the money to secure valuable property and water rights, including land on the Strip.

In his 15-page plea agreement, Jones admitted that he used his judicial office to further the investment scheme,which ended in 2012.

At least 22 victims were swindled out of more than $2.6 million, the agreement said.

Jones admitted in the plea agreement that he let his name be associated with a phony water rights project Cecrle was promoting to help draw in money from unsuspecting investors.

“The objective of the scheme and artifice were to induce victims to invest money in fake projects, convert the proceeds of the investment to their own use and purpose, and to lull investors into a false sense of legitimacy about the investments in an attempt to have them invest again and/or avoid investigation and legal process,” the plea agreement says.

Between December 2006 and March 2008, Jones and Cecrle funneled more than $260,000 in illegal proceeds from the scheme into a joint bank account they set up, according to the plea agreement. More than 1,000 transactions were conducted through the account.

Jones also admitted that he kept the scheme afloat in March 2006 when he used his office to get Cecrle released from the Clark County Detention Center on bad check charges tied to the scheme.

The longtime judge vouched for the water project with at least one victim who knew he was a judge, the plea agreement states. Jones also met numerous times with a victim in his chambers and elsewhere at Family Court to discuss payments to Cecrle related to the project, and he accepted one cash payment himself in the parking lot of the courthouse.

Cecrle’s plea agreement said Jones was wearing his judicial robe when he took the money in the parking lot.

Following the federal indictment, the Nevada Judicial Discipline Commission suspended Jones with pay. He has been collecting his $200,000 annual judicial salary for most of the time since then.

The judicial commission suspended Jones for three months without pay in February after it cited Jones for carrying on an improper romantic relationship with a prosecutor who appeared before him in Family Court.

The prosecutor, Lisa Willardson, was fired from the Clark County District attorney’s office after the relationshipbecame public. She died of a drug overdose in December.

Nevada Judge Steven Jones caught up in sex scandal & unethical conduct hearing delayed

juge dickheadEmbattled Las Vegas Family Court Judge Steven Jones is mounting an 11th-hour campaign to put off a hearing next week before the Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline on allegations he mishandled a romantic relationship with a prosecutor who appeared before him.

The judge’s lawyer, Jim Jimmerson, has filed papers asking the Nevada Supreme Court to halt the proceeding, which is set to begin Monday.

Jimmerson also has filed suit against the judicial commission in District Court and is seeking a temporary restraining order to stop the panel from disciplining Jones. A hearing on the restraining order was set for 11 a.m. today before District Judge Michael Villani.

In a mass of court papers, Jimmerson contends the seven-member commission has blatantly violated Jones’ constitutional due process rights.

“Not only is the petitioner (Jones) worried about his own fate before a commission that, left unchecked, has so quickly and repeatedly abandoned the principles of due process, but he also is very fearful that without meaningful intervention from the court, no judge in the state of Nevada can be secure from the wrongful actions of the commission,” Jimmerson told the Supreme Court.
Continue reading