Water company to receive copies of politicians’ e-mails Patrick Parkinson Of the Record staff
A multi-million dollar civil lawsuit moved closer to trial last week when Third District Court Judge Bruce Lubeck ordered attorneys for Summit County to release compact discs that allegedly contain copies of incriminating e-mails sent between government officials in the months leading up to their attempt to condemn the private Summit Water Distribution Company.
When the county was purchasing several water companies in the Snyderville Basin several years ago to form its Mountain Regional Water Special Service District, Summit Water President Hy Saunders refused to sell his company. Saunders later sued Summit County for violating Utah’s Antitrust Act after the government failed in an attempt to condemn his business.
Though a district court judge and the Utah Court of Appeals ruled against Summit Water, last year the Utah Supreme Court, in a unanimous opinion, ordered the case back to Silver Summit for trial.
But the defendants have tried to stall discovery by refusing to turn over copies of e-mails that were obtained when a computer expert in 2003 examined hard drives used by county officials, Summit Water attorney Robert Campbell said. Among those who are named as conspirators in the case are former Summit County Commissioners Patrick Cone, Shauna Kerr and Eric Schifferli, and Mountain Regional employee Doug Evans.
When Summit Water learned last year that their computer expert, Daniel Hooper, responding to a grand jury subpoena, gave the images of e-mails collected from the computers to the FBI, Campbell says an "emergency motion" was filed.
But Summit County officials who also wanted the evidence recovered hired Max Wheeler, an attorney in Salt Lake City, to broker a deal with the federal government, he said, adding that Wheeler is currently in possession of the e-mails.
Summit Water reportedly paid Hooper roughly $60,000 to use "key words" to examine roughly 30 computers, some used by the former county commissioners, for e-mails related to the antitrust dispute. But because of Hooper’s improper behavior, Lubeck removed him last week as the court’s appointed expert, Campbell said. Meanwhile, so discovery in the case can continue, the judge ordered a new expert be named and Wheeler to turn over the electronic evidence to the court within 10 days, Campbell added. "It was the e-mails of Bill Gates that in substantive part brought down Microsoft, and Summit Water believes that, in substantive part, the e-mails of this case will bring down the defendants," Campbell said.
According to Campbell, "there have been a lot of documents that have been withheld and we’re going to ask for production of those documents."
But Lubeck’s 39-page decision issued Feb. 2 states that Wheeler should not be punished for possessing the evidence, said George Hunt, an attorney for Summit County.
Hunt praised Lubeck for denying Summit Water’s request that the judge recuse himself from the case.
But Campbell claims the court’s close relationship with deputy Summit County attorney David Thomas could make Lubeck "uncomfortable" during the court proceedings. "David Thomas is going to be a vital witness and he is probably going to be named as a defendant in the case, as a conspirator," Campbell said. "Thomas, in many respects, was the architect and impresario of the conspiracy to eliminate Summit Water from the market and attempt to establish Mountain Regional as a monopoly." Campbell says he expects to request a change of venue for the trial because "it would be difficult to get an impartial jury that didn’t know anything about the case sitting in Summit County." Meanwhile, Hunt says Wheeler is preparing copies for the court of several compact discs that contain information obtained from the defendants’ computers. "Of the e-mails that we have searched thus far there is nothing that is a smoking gun," Hunt said. "If there is a smoking gun we don’t know about it and haven’t seen it."
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