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Sonics Trial Blog

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 19, 2008 5:45 PM

The city's take on Day 4

Posted by Percy Allen

Lead Seattle attorney Paul Lawrence met with the media following today's trial. Here's how the press conference went:

Question: Do you think the judge will order the Sonics to pay separate damages to Sherman Alexie?

Lawrence: (Laughs) I think there is a season-ticket holder suit so I won't comment on that.

Q: How do you think it went today?

Lawrence: We thought it went well. I was trying to think who was up today. Our economic expert I think was effectively demonstrating there's a lot more economic activity relating to the Sonics than simply what they paid to the city in rent and the admissions tax. Sherman Alexie spoke very eloquently from the fan perspective, which is one perspective that the court hasn't really heard before today. I'll leave it to you to decide about their economist, but we fail to see how --even you believe his theory -- how an analysis of the King, Snohomish and Pierce counties areas has anything to do with this case, which is about the impact of the Sonics leaving the city of Seattle.

Q: Is it a war of economists?

Lawrence: I think the reality is because there are so many varying opinions, that actually supports the city opinion that it's difficult to measure to the degree of certainty that you need to award damages, what the value to the community is of the Sonics playing in Seattle. The fact that you've got a wide range of opinions among economists just tells us it's a hard number to measure which is a fact that supports specific performance.

Q: (Mitchell) Ziets showed a profit at KeyArena.

Lawrence: First of all, the variety of forecasts that there are about the Sonics of the last two years of the lease further suggest the uncertainty of the situation and supports the notion that specific performance is appropriate. Is it $60 million loss? Is it a $200,000 gain for the Sonics? Obviously that makes a difference in the context of their case. Obviously it's not a hardship to make money as Mr. Ziets forecast when the team was purchased by Mr. Bennett. The fact that it's really hard to say what the hardship will be undermines PBC's case.

Q: What did you think about Mr. Keller's objections during Jeffrey Johnson's line of questioning?

Lawrence: You'll have to ask Mr. Keller about his tactics. Obviously it's a fair game for people to object to questions and for attorneys to restate their questions when objections are obtained. It's just part of what happens in courtrooms.

Q: Did the interplay between the judge and your team go as well as you would have liked?

Lawrence: I don't read anything into objections.

Q: Do you read anything to the judge frequently correcting your attorneys?

Lawrence: No I don't read anything. Judge (Marsha) Pechman is going to make a decision based on the evidence and the law. The fact that she wants the question asked in a particular way or a document presented in a particular way is entirely within her realm as judge, and we do our best to meet her requirements. Each of the federal judges and each of the state court judges has their own method of how they like things to proceed in their respective courts and you adjust to what the judge wants.

Q: What happened during the morning exchange between Mr. Keller and your attorneys?

Lawrence: This is the someone overheard something? I don't think it would be appropriate to comment other than to say I have not seen the blog that reported what was said, but I can tell you what was reported was not accurate.

Q: (Laughs) So what was accurate?

Lawrence: You overheard it wrong is all that I can say. I don't ... conversations between counselors like that is something that should be shared. From what I heard about it, it's not the conversation that took place.

Q: Are things getting heated between the two sides?

Lawrence: Things are no more heated than what typically happens when you're in trial. Actually, things are pretty normal and calm between lawyers in trial.

Q: Do you know if the questions Judge Pechman will have for you (Friday) will be made public?

Lawrence: I don't know.

Q: Does it make you nervous that she said found case law that neither side did?

Lawrence: No. If it was case law that only they found, then that might make me nervous. (Laughs) When you're arguing a case in front of any judge, you want to know what they want to learn about. So I think it's great that she's going to have questions that she wants us to address. That tells the lawyers what she's most interested in hearing about and allows you to address those points that she needs to be educated about.

Q: Is that fairly common?

Lawrence: It's not out of the norm. Obviously it's limited to judge cases. ... Given the structure of the case, having these three days off to allow people to prepare is encouraging that kind of questioning.

Q: What was your impression of the cross-examining of Dr. (Deborah) Jay?

Lawrence: I thought it went fine. I don't want to draw conclusion from the testimony. That's for the judge to draw her own conclusions. The main points were being made and...being argued was that is the question that she asked people, really the right question to find whether or not people in Seattle or the Seattle MSA care about whether the Sonics stay or not. Secondly, some of the verbal answers that are written in the report, you'll see when you read it, actually demonstrate some very sound reasons why people want the Sonics to stay -- even people who said they would be not impacted by it. And finally, the bottom line is even under this worst-case scenario, that's a million people in this area who care and that's a lot of people.

Q: Have you seen any other studies like Mr. Humphreys' that said the Seattle economy might be worse off for having the Sonics?

Lawrence: I haven't seen any other studies that show Seattle or any other community is worse off for having a sports team. I think that is intuitively not correct. Even if you talk about substituting dollars, it's hard to see how having a football team or baseball team or basketball team is a drain on the economy.

Q: Why was it important to hear from Sherman Alexie?

Lawrence: The fans needed a voice at trial. He's a long-time season-ticket holder. He's been articulate both in his writing, in his novels, his non-fiction work about the value of basketball to him as an individual and to his family and to his community. So he seemed like a very natural spokesperson for Seattle Sonics fans.

Q: (Inaudible)
Lawrence: On the one side you have their claim that we just have to pay rent and I guess that maybe they are now suggesting admissions tax. What we showed is a combination of various factors. One, they agreed to stay and agreed to the fact that the Sonics are a unique tenant and agreed to specific performance. Secondly, the Sonics are indeed a unique tenant and there's no basketball team or comparable team that can fill KeyArena the way that (the) Sonics can. ... Seattle is not just going to put a Wal-Mart in the Seattle Center at KeyArena. That's just not a substitute for the Sonics team. Thirdly, are there things beyond rent and taxes that accrue to the city and that includes both the benefit of the type of economic activity that Lon Hatamiya talked about that there's hundreds of millions of dollars of economic activity generated that's over and beyond whatever is paid for rent. And then of course, the intangibles, which their expert admits, which Mr. Bennett admits, and we all know who follow and like sports it's something that the community can rally around your sports teams and that is an important benefit to the community. So it's a combination of those factors.

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Sonics attorneys focus on city's "poisoned well" plan
Bennett says Sonics could lose $60 million if forced to stay in Seattle 2 more years
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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)

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Other links

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