Updated April 28, 2023 - 8:31 pm
Attorneys for developer Jim Rhodes’ long-stalled Blue Diamond Hill housing project are claiming that Clark County officials misled them about internal messages about the project, and they are asking a court to issue “significant sanctions” against the agency.
Last week, U.S. Magistrate Judge Elayna Youchah sanctioned Commissioner Justin Jones for deleting important text messages relating to Rhodes’ project — and purportedly lying about it — but declined to report him to the Nevada State Bar for misconduct.
Lawyers for Rhodes’ company, Gypsum Resources, submitted newly obtained communications related to the ongoing litigation, which they obtained through a February public records request. They alleged that the messages prove county officials deceived them and that Clark County concealed relevant evidence from the ongoing litigation.
Gypsum Resources attorneys said that the county initially only agreed to release the documents under the condition that they would not be used in court. Gypsum declined to agree to the condition and started receiving the messages in late March.
In a 2021 deposition, Nancy Amundsen, the county’s director of comprehensive planning, said she didn’t conduct county business over text message, lawyers wrote. But message threads recovered from other staffers’ phones show Amundsen participated in “extensive” work discussions over text, including those related to Gypsum Resources, lawyers wrote.
The day after Amundsen was deposed, she reached out to Sami Real, then the department’s planning manager, who is now her deputy.
“Are they going to depose you?” Amundsen wrote.
“(Probably). Sad part is I don’t remember much,” Real replied.
Amundsen responded: “No, that’s the good thing, you are smart and quick witted … you will drive the attorneys nuts.”
The county did not provide communications from Amundsen’s work phone, which attorneys allege could mean that she didn’t disclose the messages or destroyed them.
The county provided messages from her personal phone, but the earliest texts from it are from January, lawyers said.
Real said in her deposition that searches for conversations relating to the project returned empty, attorneys said. But the county produced messages in which she and Amundsen texted about the merits of the project and expressed trust about the staff’s initial recommendation to approve the development, attorneys wrote. After Jones took office, the staff reversed its recommendation.
“Contrary to the deposition testimony provided by these County employees, it is readily apparent that text communications were used extensively to conduct County business, and that such texting undoubtedly would have been used for the high-profile applications submitted by Gypsum,” attorneys wrote. “Once again, Gypsum and the Court were misled.”
In her previous order, Youchah awarded Gypsum Resources fees to be paid by Jones for the time it took to bring the motion for sanctions.
While Amundsen and Real communicated regularly, attorneys wrote, there were a couple of monthslong gaps in messaging, including one that spans from April 12, 2019, to June that year.
The commission voted unanimously to deny Gypsum Resources request for a waiver of development conditions on April 17, 2019.
In response to the motion, Clark County provided the Review-Journal with a pair of legal filings that argued to suppress any new messages from being admitted in the case because they fell outside the discovery period at issue. The county also argued that it had no power to search the employees’ communications on private phones without their authorization because they’re not subject to public records laws, according to a legal pleading. (The Nevada Supreme Court in 2018 ruled that private cellphones could be searched if they are used by government officials to conduct official business.)