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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 11:44 AM

Bennett defends good-faith efforts

Posted by Percy Allen

During the second morning session, Seattle attorney Paul Lawrence returned to the line of questioning about the 12-month "good faith best efforts" stipulation in the sales agreement.

Lawrence introduced Exhibit 265, an e-mail between Icon consultant Tim Romani and Sonics co-owner Clay Bennett in December 2006. In the e-mail, Bennett said he would need a significant public investment to receive a reasonable economic return.

"In doing the work we had done ... have we met our obligations of good faith best effort? Legal question," Bennett wrote. Romani advised Bennett to invest just $10 million toward a new arena project.

Lawrence used this evidence to hammer home the point that Bennett was unwilling to make a significant investment in the $500 million Renton arena. But Bennett repeated: "We made a $100 million commitment."

Lawrence admitted Exhibit 324, e-mails on Nov. 9, 2006 between Bennett and spokesman Brent Gooden. Gooden asked: "The question of the hour is what constitutes a good-faith effort?"

Lawrence introduced Exhibit 253, which is another Gooden e-mail to the ownership group and Sonics lawyers. Gooden wrote about "the strategy to lay the groundwork to explore several options including relocation. We have worked with our legal and PR team to formulate this strategy and craft the right messages."

Lawrence admitted Exhibit 139, which was an August 2007 e-mail from co-owner Aubrey McClendon to Bennett referring to a story in an Oklahoma City business newspaper. McClendon wrote: "Clay, oh no I just read this have I created problems for you. The truth is we did buy it with hope of moving to OKC, but we did first have an obligation to Seattle to negotiate in good faith, which of course you have done. Does the team need to put out a clarifying press statement."

Exhibit 138, Bennett's e-mail response: "... we get killed on this one. I don't mind the PR ugliness. But I'm concerned from a legal standpoint that your statement could perhaps undermine our basic premise of good faith best efforts where you infer that we basically never plan to stay in Seattle. I have the lawyers contemplating a response strategy."

Lawrence asked Bennett why he didn't say: "Aubrey why did you say that? It's not true." Bennett said he said those things to McClendon in a telephone conversation.

"But that's not represented here in your e-mails," Lawrence said.

"No it is not," Bennett replied.

Shortly after McClendon's blunder, Bennett hired a Cleveland PR firm, which constructed a 60-day media strategic plan. In an e-mail to the PR firm, Bennett wrote: "It is clear such a strategy will have little or no [or quite likely negative] effect in Seattle, but we are attempting to impact the national sports media and most important David [NBA commissioner David Stern] and the other owners."

Lawrence concluded with a series of e-mails and memos that he introduced into evidence.

Exhibit 279 is a memo from Bennett to co-owners on June 2007. Bennett wrote: "We will be playing our games in Seattle next year. While the League was willing to consider a special relocation process we could not meet their requirements before their June 1 deadline."

In the memo, Bennett shot down the Muckelshoot Tribe plan and nixed an arena deal involving developer Dave Sabey.

In the memo, Bennett said he was working with lawyers to consider a renovation of KeyArena, however, Lawrence asserted the Sonics owner never considered KeyArena to be a viable solution. Bennett agreed.

Exhibit 263: an e-mail between Bennett and political consultant Jim Kneeland on Nov. 10, 2006. "Please stay Way Away from talking about our investment in the building."

Exhibit 90: an e-mail in February 2007 from Kneeland to Bennett. Kneeland wrote: "The original plan was to have a site and financing plan ready for the opening day of the Legislative in January. We are now into February and people are still waiting for us to name the site and outline the financing package."

The purpose of the evidence was intended to show Bennett was slow to develop the Renton arena plan and he was unwilling to make a meaningful investment in the project.

Sonics attorney Brad Keller has began questioning Bennett again.

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