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Along Came Jones

Embattled judge's part-time gig steams parents

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Several parents who filed complaints against Judge Bill Jones with the North Carolina Judicial Standards Commission two years ago say they were shocked to learn that Jones recently returned to the bench as an emergency judge. Jones, who retired from the bench last October, was appointed by Governor Mike Easley to serve as an emergency judge in February.

Now the parents say they want the Judicial Standards Commission to reopen an SBI investigation of Jones. According to confidential correspondence between the parents and the commission, that investigation was dropped in exchange for Jones' agreement to retire from the bench.

The parents, all of whom were involved in custody battles, alleged in complaints that Jones had improper relationships with attorneys and psychologists who had testified in their cases. In the wake of those complaints and of Jones' removal from another custody case under similar circumstances, the commission launched a State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) investigation into the matter in March 2001.

Then, in September 2001, the parents received a confidential memo from Judicial Standards Commission Executive Secretary Deborah R. Carrington that said the commission planned to drop the SBI investigation into Jones' actions if Jones retired. A week later, Jones officially retired from his position as Chief District Court Judge of Mecklenburg County. Now, less than a year later, he has returned to the bench on a fill-in basis for other judges.

That prompted some of the parents who filed the complaints to write letters to the commission asking whether it planned to reopen its ethics-related SBI investigation since Jones had returned to the bench.

In a confidential reply letter to one of the parents from the commission, Carrington wrote that the termination of the SBI investigation into Jones' conduct in her case was "predicated on his retirement from the bench, not on a promise never to serve in a judicial capacity in the future."

The letter also says that Carrington planned to share the woman's letter of complaint about Jones' return to the bench with the commission at its September 26 meeting.

When contacted by Creative Loafing last week, Carrington refused to comment on the confidential letters she sent to the parents or the status of the Jones investigation.

Karen Myers, one of the parents who complained to the commission, said she was shocked to learn that Jones was back on the bench.

"We are watching and we see what's happening and we don't think it's right," said Myers. "It's a sad commentary on the justice system in this county and in this state. But on the other hand, it has been a cover-up from the start."

Jones first made headlines two years ago after Katherine Lange, the mother in a child custody case he presided over, petitioned the court to have him removed from her case because Jones didn't disclose that he owned vacation property with Katie Holliday, the attorney representing the father of the children. In his ruling in June of last year, District Judge William Christian removed Jones from the case but noted that he found no proof that Jones showed bias against Lange. According to court records, Jones acknowledged that for the past 15 years, he and his wife had owned a house near Mount Mitchell with Holliday and other attorneys. Jones claimed he had made the situation known around the courthouse 15 years ago when the house was purchased, but that it hadn't been brought up much since then.

Though Lange has never filed a complaint with the Judicial Standards Commission in the case, after her case became public, several other parents did, which sparked the SBI investigation. Their complaints centered around what they claim is collusion between Jones, Holliday, Holliday's husband, psychologist H.D. Kirkpatrick, and another psychologist in Kirkpatrick's practice, Jonathan Gould. In child custody cases in Mecklenburg County, the testimony of a psychologist can weigh heavily in the outcome of the case.

Throughout the Lange case, Jones insisted he had done nothing unethical, and other members of the legal profession have come to his defense. CL tried to reach Jones for comment, but he has been out of town and unavailable for comment.

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