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June 17, 2008 9:50 PM

Second day scorecard for the trial

Posted by Percy Allen

The city of Seatle recovered from Monday's miscues, but then it would have been difficult to repeat the opening day blunders.

This had to be a big day for the city and Seattle attorney Paul Lawrence had a fine showing. He didn't deliver a knockout during his questioning of Sonics owner Clay Bennett, however, he hammered home the city's key points, which are:

--- Bennett is a sophisticated investor.
--- Bennett read several reports about KeyArena and the Sonics' financial troubles before buying the team.
--- Bennett promised to honor all the committments of the team when he bought the team.

"The basic premise of the case is the lease and the basic premise of the case is what PBC understood when they signed the lease," Lawrence said during a short press conference after the trial adjourned. "And they are trying to say they should be able to get out because it's hard on them. But that was a risk they assumed when they had signed the lease and we asked that they be held to the lease which includes a specific performance provision."

Lawrence introduced the famous Sonics owners emails including Bennett's "I am a man possessed" message, however, the Seattle attorney played it relatively low key and didn't attack Bennett like many expected.

Still, Bennett contradicted himself when he tried to explain why he said he was a man possessed. His explaination simply was not believable because days after the email, he made plans to move the team.

During the trial, Lawrence asked: "So within a few days of being a man possessed to stay in Seattle, you contacted Mr. (Joel) Litvin of the NBA and started explaining to him why Oklahoma City is a good place for an NBA team; is that fair?"

Bennett replied: Yes.

Lawrence could have questioned Bennett all day, but he stopped after about 2 1/2 hours.

Bennett's attorney Brad Keller went to great lengths to detail the ownership group's effort to build an arena in Renton, which seemed a little strange. It was revealed that Bennett contacted Microsoft mogul Steve Ballmer and asked him for help with the Olympia lobbying efforts.

Keller, however, didn't undo the city's claims.

The Sonics attorneys appeared to score major points late in the day when Paul Taylor seemingly undermined the testimony of noted sports economist Andrew Zimbalist. Taylor skewered Zimbalist and accused him of plagerizing work that Zimbalist did in 2005 during a case involving the city of Anaheim and the Angels MLB team.

Taylor recounted a Kentucky case involving NASCAR in which the judge called Zimbalist a "hired gun" and said Zimbalist's approach "has not been tested and has not been subject to peer review and publication; there are no standards controlling it and there is no showing that it enjoys general acceptance within the scientific community."

The city of Seattle never objected during Taylor's line of questioning, which made it clear that they were unprepared. That was big mistake.

Even before cross-examination, Zimbalist didn't help the city. When he wasn't shouting into the microphone, he used big words and text book definitions that were difficult to understand. At one point, Judge Marsha Pechman asked him once to explain his meaning when he said "avidity."

Also, Seattle attorney Greg Narver often hurried his questions, which appeared to annoy Pechman.

If this were a jury trial, then Zimbalist's credibilty may have been damaged. However, Pechman will decide this case and she may not have been impressed by the exchange with Taylor.

It must also be noted that this blog simply scores points for sound arguements. I'm no lawyer or law professor so it's impossible for me to know with any degree of certainty what Pechman is thinking.

Still I'm a reasonalble, unbiased observer and it's my opinion that each side argued to a draw today because Lawrence didn't slam dunk Bennett and Zimbalist flubbed in the end.

My unofficial scorecard has the Sonics leading 3-2.

Finally, I think it's a curious move that the Sonics are considering bringing co-owner Aubrey McClendon to Seattle and having him testify in court.

It seems that would be a risky gamble considering McClendon has already demonstrated he can't keep a secret. You'll remember McClendon uttered the "We didn't buy them to keep them in Seattle" quote which cost him a $250,000 fine from the NBA.

Day 3 resumes Wednesday with Bennett on the stand.

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