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Tweets Likely Public Records, Judge Says

     LAS VEGAS (CN) — The former general counsel for the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada must stop destroying digital evidence related to a fraud complaint, a federal judge ordered Wednesday.
     Court findings indicate Las Vegas-based tech firm Switch in June became aware defendant attorney Carolyn “Lina” Tanner published online and social media posts under the pseudonyms DixieRaeSparx, #DixieRaeSparx or @DixieRaeSparx.
     The posts were about Switch’s application before the commission to stop buying power from Nevada Power dba NV Energy and buy it on the open market.
     U.S. District Judge James C. Mahan said Tanner worked for the commission as its general counsel for more than three years, and her duties included “ensuring the propriety and legality of commission activities and proceedings,” until she “promptly resigned” on June 16.
     Switch says Nevada lobbyist Fred Voltz on June 15 exposed Tanner’s online activities, which include communicating with other government officials via social media during hearings.
     The company says Tanner since has tried to delete, destroy or hide “certain of her social media accounts and social media activity,” despite being subject to Nevada’s Open Records Request law.
     Switch says “Tanner deactivated her Twitter account twice, attempting to destroy evidence and putting the evidence at jeopardy” after Voltz exposed her activities.
     The court on July 18 issued a preliminary injunction and an emergency temporary restraining order demanding Tanner stop destroying evidence and reactivate her deleted Twitter account by July 18.
     Tanner on July 21 said she tried to comply with the court order, but her Twitter password no longer worked and she could not restore her Twitter account, Mahan wrote.
     Mahan said Tanner learned of Switch’s concern about her destroying evidence as early as July 14, but she took no steps “restore or preserve” the records or accounts.
     Switch then sought a preliminary injunction to “unwind Tanner’s attempts to destroy discoverable documents” and to “take all possible actions necessary to restore any records lost,” Mahan wrote.
     Mahan said Switch likely will prevail in its claims regarding Nevada records law requiring Tanner’s social media and online accounts and posts be protected as public records, and ordered Tanner and her third-party account administrators to preserve the records and accounts — including any copies on a hard drive or that are archived.
     It would take only a “minimal” effort by Tanner to preserve and maintain the records in question, while Switch only seeks to maintain the status quo, including preserving all discoverable evidence, Mahan said.
     Switch sued the commission and NV Energy on July 12, after the commission denied its application to buy power from a source other than NV Energy.
     A court date had been scheduled Thursday, but Mahan vacated the hearing after issuing the preliminary injunction on Wednesday.

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