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Seattle Times reporters Percy Allen, Jim Brunner and Danny O'Neil are filing updates from the courthouse throughout the day.

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June 18, 2008 5:28 PM

Lawrence: The lease says what it says

Posted by Percy Allen

After court adjourned, the city's lead attorney, Paul Lawrence, met with the media.

Lawrence: So what would you like to know today?

Question: How do you think it went?

Lawrence: It's a good day. We thought we got some more points with Mr. (Clay) Bennett and I think we made a good showing in terms of the community and civic contribution of the Sonics to the community. It started off with Mr. (Lon) Hatamiya whose going to talk about the economic activity that's generated with having the Sonics in the community.

Q: Talk about why he's so important to your case?

Lawrence: No one witness is that particularly more important to the other. Part of what we want to get across is there is a lot of activity that's generated by the Sonics that's beyond simply the economics of paying rent or paying taxes or paying admissions taxes. They generate a lot of game day revenue with people buying merchandise and that generates activity by going to restaurants, going to bars, staying overnight at hotels. All that type of activity. Jobs associated with the Sonics and spending associated with those jobs. All of those types of economic activity contribute to the Sonics community.

Q: What do you think the e-mails show in your case?

Lawrence: We're trying to make several points with Mr. Bennett, and the judge will decide whether we made those points. We talked about a lot in the court, and talked about today some more and also with Danny Barth is really just about everything that Mr. Bennett, Mr. Barth and the Sonics are complaining about are things or issues that were existing when they signed on to the lease. The lease says what it says. It provides for them playing their home games and it also provides for the revenue sharing. It provides for certain control by the city as the owner of a building with respect to how the building looks. And those were all issues that were in the lease at the time that Mr. Bennett signed it and there shouldn't be excuses to try and leave a year later.

There's also questions to what Mr. Bennett was really trying to achieve over the past year in terms of activity with the Washington state Legislature, and what his goal was and I think we presented evidence that at least demonstrated he had a very significant focus on meeting a good faith best effort commitment in order to show the NBA that he met their requirement as a prerequisite to filing for relocation.

Q: So you're saying that it was only show?

Lawrence: If he wants to find an arena here in Seattle, you have to ask yourself the question what's the best way to do that? What type of plan is most likely to get the support of Legislature. His own people were telling -- as well as the legislative leaders were telling him -- "Look, it's got to be a plan where there is a specific commitment from the team as to how much they're going to contribute. There's got to be a plan in which the team is going to cover cost overruns because you're the ones who are asking us to build this facility."

Again the timing, whether or not it's likely to pass the Washington state Legislature to put a $500 million tax proposal in play in March in a short legislative session. These are all questions that were raised by his actions, and as I said, the judge will look at that set of e-mails and actions and come to her conclusions.

Q: If there's a ruling that a cash payment is an adequate buyout of the lease when will that be determined?

Lawrence: This was the effort that the Sonics tried to do when they tried to amend the complaint. She rejected that so there would be a separate trial on that issue.

Q: Trial by jury?

Lawrence: It's our belief that at that point it's a breach of contract damage claim so we would be entitled to a jury. I don't want to get too legal. The remedy of specific performance, even though it's in the contract, is something that the judge decides. But the measure of monetary damage is something that typically a jury decides. So it's the position of the city that we'll never get there, but if we do get there we would ask for a jury.

Q: Happy on where you are?

Lawrence: Absolutely. As I said yesterday, we're making the points that we want to make and we felt we had another good day further making the points and rebutting the evidence that Mr. Keller tried to draw out with Mr. Bennett this morning.

Q: What about Judge Pechman's apparent irritation about the lack of evidence being ready, mostly by your side, and her ruling mostly against your objections and in favor of the Sonics' objections.

Lawrence: I don't see it that way. We provided Judge Pechman with notebooks to be responsive and she wanted a list, and we just had a miscommunication about that. We gave her a notebook that had all the exhibits in it and she made it clear to us today that she preferred to just have a list and she'll put together her own notebook.

Q: What was your take on the rather bleak outlook on a lame-duck season as pointed out by the Sonics. Was that relevant?

Lawrence: I don't think that it's particularly relevant because the things that they're complaining about are pre-existent to Mr. Bennett signing the lease. Furthermore, the lame-duck status is a function of their decision to announce they're moving to Oklahoma City three years early. I think there's evidence if you look at the Sonics' performance and listen to what (former Seattle Center Director) Virginia Anderson said, that really the key to whether the team will make money next year regardless of whether they're in Seattle or Oklahoma City is how well the team does. If the team has a turnaround like the Boston Celtics going from 20-some odd wins to the NBA championship, I assure you they're going to make money no matter where they are.

Q: They can make money on this current lease?

Lawrence: Sure, and that was the point that Virginia Anderson made the other day. When the team goes to the playoffs and have a great playoff run, they make money. There's a very direct relationship between attendance and wins. Between wins and Nielsen ratings. The Boston Celtics is an easy number to play with. The Sonics, were two years ago a 1.62 rating. The Celtics were 1.6 rating. The Sonics went down, their rating went down. The Celtics had a great season and they are over three this season. Performance means a lot on a lot of different revenue basis for a team.

Q: Aubrey McClendon e-mail?

Lawrence: My job is just to present the facts as we see them and let the judge make her conclusions in that regard.

Q: Why did you take McClendon off the list?

Lawrence: I didn't take McClendon off the list. Because he is a resident of Oklahoma City and not an operating officer of the club we do not have the right to call him so we are left to presenting his testimony based on the deposition we took in Oklahoma City. It was PBC that determined not to bring him to Seattle to testify.

Q: You'll show the (McClendon) video at some point?

Lawrence: I probably forget to mention that, we still are considering doing that. We will be submitting to the Court much more extensive portions of his depositions. We may show part of his deposition in court.

Q: You told the judge you are paring down your case. How much and how significant is that?

Lawrence: For example, one of our experts was focused on the Sonics operations over the years leading up to the signing by Bennett and the years after. He thinks, through Mr. Bennett, we've been able to get out the fact that Mr. Bennett understood the degree of losses that the Sonics were facing in the years leading up to when he purchased the team, so that expert became unnecessary.

Q: Were you aware that the Sonics were not selling tickets?

Lawrence: That was something we were aware of. You wonder why they ask that question, when the answer is simply is no one calling because you're not selling. Why would anyone call to buy when you announced you're moving. Why would anyone be buying sponsorships next year in Seattle when you announced you're desire to go to Oklahoma City. I didn't get what the point of that testimony was.

Q: Any witness you're cutting because of time constraints.

Lawrence: No. If there's anything we think is important we'll put that witness on. We had 10 hours of our 15 hours left as of this morning. I think we're doing just fine. Mr. Meneberg, the expert, points that he was going to make, had been made using fact witnesses, which is always preferable.

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Documents

2007 "Poisoned Well" document (PDF)
Ward: "Are we doomed to have another lameduck season in Seattle?" (PDF)
Bennett's e-mail to Stern: "You are just one of my favorite people on earth" (PDF)
Clay Bennett and Sonics' court filing (PDF)

Multimedia

Gallery | Seattle SuperSonics: Lasting memories
Gallery | Bittersweet night for Sonics fans
Gallery | Sonics through the years
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Gallery | End of a Season, End of a Franchise?
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Talk about the team in the Sonics forum

Other links

Trial coverage from www.newok.com
ESPN.com | Hope (still) springs in Seattle