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Tragedy follows scandal, and not for the first time

<p>Lisa Willardson is sworn in before testifying at the disciplinary hearing of Family Court Judge Steven Jones on Dec. 4.</p>

Lisa Willardson is sworn in before testifying at the disciplinary hearing of Family Court Judge Steven Jones on Dec. 4.

The news broke Friday morning that former Clark County prosecutor Lisa Willardson was dead. It was as shockingly unexpected as it was predictable. Another attorney in a high-profile scandal found dead. David Amesbury, suicide, Homeowners Association imbroglio. Nancy Kwon, suicide, also HOA scandal-related. David Schubert, suicide after crack cocaine conviction. Now Willardson? Was the woman at the heart of Judge Steven Jones’ fall from grace the latest in a long list of shamed attorneys who suffered public humiliation and then ended it all?

Willardson caught the attention of colleagues (who caught it on camera) when Judge Steven Jones, whom she appeared before in her official capacity, fondled her knee under a table. That led to her firing at the hands of then-District Attorney David Roger, who also filed a complaint against Jones with the judicial discipline commission.

Willardson sued the D.A, continued seeing the now-suspended judge and began her own campaign for a seat on the family court bench. Hardly the actions of a defeated, suicidal woman. Yet friends and colleagues posting on her Facebook page hinted Willardson took her own life, with one attorney noting it was a lesson for all. Another poster spewed venom at the two attorneys who exposed the lovesick couple, as if Willardson’s colleagues should have allowed the tryst to flourish, even as public integrity eroded.

The coroner says Willardson died on the day after Christmas, just hours after word came down that the Nevada Judicial Discipline Commission ruled her relationship with Jones violated judicial rules. According to news reports the judge returned from Utah when Willardson failed to answer text messages that morning. Was she incapacitated all day and unable to answer? Jones says he found her dead, slumped over a toilet. The coroner said she died at 6:40 p.m. But if she hadn’t returned messages all day, did she even know of the commission’s findings, reported just before noon?

By most accounts Willardson was a talented, passionate and committed advocate for abused and neglected children.

Now, she’s likely to be best remembered for being found dead by her legally troubled lover, who she once described in an email as “freaking hot.”

It’s easy to lampoon the likes of Willardson, who stood by her man with the same Tammy Wynette-worthy fervor she mustered to fight her firing at Roger’s hand. I never met her but I don’t envy the job she fought to regain. The decision to remove a child from a parent must be a nearly impossible one. It’s the kind of task that faces overworked, stressed out lawyers every day. Clearly she wasn’t thinking straight when she failed to disclose her relationship with the judge. Or when she enlisted his help with legal work. But he could have declined. Or recused himself from her cases. After all, it was Jones, not Willardson, who was elected by voters, entrusted to uphold the public trust. Even though it takes two to tango, it doesn’t seem quite fair that it’s Willardson who appears to have paid the ultimate price in this dance.


On another topic, when it comes to medical marijuana, I’m a believer. Anyone who watches Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s documentary “Weed” would be hard-pressed to argue against the value of the plant in controlling seizures in children. While I applaud Nevada lawmakers for finally living up to the constitutional mandate to make the drug available to patients, I am sickened by the means.

Patients in Nevada who buy medical marijuana will be charged a transaction fee, a tariff that is non-existent for any other medication. I get the need to generate state revenue, but on the backs of sick people? Lawmakers insist this is serious business. So why not treat it as such? Instead, they are essentially saying “Hey, we know you’re not REALLY sick. Pay the transaction fee and no one gets hurt. Signed, Wink and Nod.”

Message to lawmakers: Either recognize pot for its medicinal value and treat it like other medication. Or sell it to everyone and reap the financial benefits. Attempting to have it both ways ain’t dope.

DANA GENTRY is executive producer of Ralston Reports on KSNV.