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June 20, 2008 8:18 PM

Gorton should have withdrawn from case

Posted by Percy Allen

This one is easy. This day belongs to the Sonics. In a landslide.

And I don't need a law degree to know the Sonics attorneys made several intriguing points. They were so good, I'm beginning to wonder if District Court Judge Marsha Pechman should toss the case out of court based on the evidence presented Friday.

The Sonics got a lot of mileage from their "unclean hands" defense. They established a paper trail between former U.S. Senator Slade Gorton, who is the lead attorney for the city, and local investors intent on buying the Sonics.

Gorton has been up front about his passion to retain NBA basketball in Seattle, but that passion is undermining the city's case.

It's difficult to determine if Gorton's passion or his role for the city caused him to inflict pain on Sonics chairman Clay Bennett and his ownership group, the Professional Basketball Club. It's difficult to determine when Gorton was acting as the concerned citizen who loves the NBA or the city's attorney that's being paid $1 million.

It pains me to admit it, but Gorton should have withdrawn from the case early on. I think the city was negligent in not asking Gorton to withdraw from the case. And for the first time, I think the Sonics might lose what should have been a no-lose lawsuit.

We all know what Gorton has done for professional sports in this town. He's been amazing and every Mariners fan and Seahawks fans are in his debt for saving those teams. Next time you see Gorton at a game, buy the man a beer and a hot dog.

But this is different.

A cardinal rule in journalism for a reporter is you never want to be the focal point of the story. I think the same holds true for attorneys.

It's not a good sign when Paul Lawrence, the lead attorney in the city's case, is fielding questions about another attorney on the case.

I presume Lawrence and Gorton work in close proximity and I find it impossible to believe Lawrence didn't know Gorton was hatching a plan "bleed Bennett to force him to sell." Regardless of what you think about the Oklahoma City Raider (sorry JB I stole your line), the opposing lawyer shouldn't devise schemes in their off hours to force the defendant to lose millions.

That's just not ethical.

Under questioning, Seattle developer Matt Griffin all but admitted that he had a meeting with Gorton where they talked about forcing Bennett to sell the team.

The defense introduced several Gorton e-mails to former team executive and part owner Wally Walker, Safeco president Mike McGavick and Seattle real estate developer Matt Griffin about forcing Bennett to sell the Sonics.

Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis had to know about all of this. He had to know Gorton is a bulldog who wins tough fights. He had to know his bulldog would engage in this type of behavior.

As Walker said today: "I would do anything to keep basketball in Seattle."

Anything? And what about Gorton? Would he do anything? It appears so. It appears he already has.

This one is easy. Give this day to the Sonics.

The team's lead attorney Brad Keller slam dunked Griffin early and often.

And Sonics attorney Paul Taylor made Walker squirm so much on the witness stand, I thought the former team president was on trial for giving $35 million to Jim McIlvaine and driving George Karl away.

Despite repeated objections from Lawrence, Pechman allowed Taylor to introduce Exhibit 567, which may ultimately doom the city's case. The evidence is a PowerPoint presentation given by Gorton called: The Sonics Challenge: Why a Poisoned Well Affords a Unique Opportunity.

It's a 46-page detailed strategy to inflict economic hardship on Bennett. It's scary because it nearly worked. The plan had two critical shortcomings.

For starters, state lawmakers declined to authorize tax funds to help in the KeyArena renovation. And second, the plan became public.

I find it a tad bit ironic that while the city compiled reams of embarrassing e-mails from the Sonics owners to show they breached a "good faith best effort" promise, Gorton sent e-mails that are now being used against the city.

If that's not fitting, then I don't know what is.

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