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Nevada Agency General Counsel Out of a Job After Tweets

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on June 23, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

After Carolyn Tanner suddenly lost her position as Nevada's Public Utility Commission General Counsel, we couldn't help but look a little deeper into what sounded like a "loose lips sink ships" story. Allegedly she is no longer employed due to her actions on Twitter. Tanner, however, claims the timing was coincidental and denies that her Tweet under the pseudonym "DixieRaeSparx" had anything to do with her current job search.

Personal or not, Dixie's little spat with an enterprising Nevada lobbyist shines a light on the proprieties of lawyer's comments on past or pending legal matters.

Odd Timing

Tanner, who had been acting as the general counsel for Nevada's PUC suddenly found herself without a job after it was revealed by Carson City resident Fred Voltz that she used her Twitter name "DixieRaeSparx" as a soapbox to criticize a net metering policy under review by the PUC panel. Voltz, to his credit, went on Google and pieced together Dixie's identity simply by digging around the ownership details of the Twitter account. Tanner should have been more careful.

"A review of these comments shows that Ms. Tanner was disparaging the rooftop solar companies, the net metering customers and the Bureau of Consumer Protection, while at the same time praising NV Energy, when the Commission still had this matter pending before it," Voltz said before the Commission.

If you're looking for those comments, don't bother: DixieRaeSparx is no more.

Tweeting Under a Pseudonym

Voltz claimed that Tanner had violated several ethical rules including the judicial rules of conduct that applied to her because, as he saw it, the PUC is a quasi-judicial agency.

Tanner disagreed that she'd violated any ethical rules in assuming her pseudonym and that she assumed that name because she did not want to get "trolled" by PUC critics under her real name.

It Hardly Matters -- and Yet It Does Matter

In the case of Tanner, the case is moot whether she left for personal reasons or not: she's out. But how do lawyers navigate the sometimes treacherous waters of social media and ethics? It's tough. Sometimes, we wonder why in-house lawyers even want to risk it.

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