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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 26, 2008 5:05 PM

News conference with Paul Lawrence, Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis

Posted by Danny O'Neil

Paul Lawrence, lead attorney for the city of Seattle, and Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis answered questions after six days of testimony ended at the U.S. District Court. Here's what they said:

Tim Ceis: So I just want to start off by saying, I just want to express my appreciation for the great work Paul Lawrence over the course of this trial and also particularly, though, today in his closing. I think what Paul did today was clearly lay out the strength of the city's case to the judge, the strength of our claim for specific enforcement of the lease and why that is so important to the city of Seattle and not only the city of Seattle, but the people we represent.

I thought it was particularly telling that the judge asked about the issue of sentimentality and how is it that a city can represent that sentiment of its citizens and the fans of basketball, but that is the job of the city, the mayor. He is elected to represent those interests and the representation of those interests [don't] always manifest themselves in just concrete and parks and things like that. They sometimes manifest themselves in the will and desires of the people he represents. So that's something that's irreplaceable in terms of the Sonics if they should leave Seattle. So that I think was a very poignant point of this case today.

I also want to lay out to you today that our objective of the city remains the same and has been consistent throughout the point in time in which Mr. Bennett told us he wanted to break the lease, the point in time in which we filed litigation to prevent that and the point in time between then and now in trying this case and that was to keep the Sonics as a tenant in KeyArena. To try and solve the KeyArena renovation problem so that we can keep a team here long-term, and that's regardless of who the ownership is and who that team is. That remains the city's objective. And so today was a closure of this trial, I hope that we will take a step forward in meeting that objective for the city.

Paul, do you have anything you want to add to that?

Paul Lawrence: No.

Ceis: Any questions?

Q: Is the case decided on Washington state law or federal law?

Lawrence: It's a Washington contract and Washington law would apply.

Q: It seemed like to me anyway, it seemed like [Sonics lawyer Brad] Keller dropped a new little bit of evidence closing, which found Deputy Mayor Ceis at a meeting at K&L Gates, two days after the "Poisoned Well'" meeting. So what were you there for? What strategy were you talking about there?

Ceis: That is not a new piece of evidence. That was in my deposition that is part of the court record, and it was clear that on October 9 we were meeting to discuss the preparation of the presentation to the NBA of a renovated KeyArena plan. That's the whole purpose of that discussion that day.

Q: Nothing about this poisoned well plan? No discussion of this idea that, ‘We drag ‘em in to court and make it painful enough, we can make ‘em sell.'?

Ceis: Again, in my deposition, which is part of the record for the court, I had no knowledge at any time up until my deposition of the existence of that Power Point.

Q: If the judge were to allow the team to break the lease, what would keep them from just leaving immediately? Could they just pack up and go?

Lawrence: I'm not going to comment on what may or may not happen.

Q: Is there anything that the city can do to keep them from leaving immediately?

Lawrence: There are options for the city. There are options for Howard Schultz and his lawsuit and I know there's a third lawsuit and I don't know if that's a forward-looking suit or not. So in all existing lawsuits, there may be options.

Q: How confident are you in the verdict?

Lawrence: It's not a verdict because this is a judge.

Q: Sorry. I'm a sports reporter.

Lawrence: Sorry, I'm a litigator so I think I'm going to win, but at this point I think we feel good about the case that has been presented to the court. We got all the evidence in that we wanted in the course of the case. We made the argument today that we wanted to make. We did our best to respond to the judge's question and now, it's just in Judge [Marsha] Pechman's hands to make a good decision and I trust she will do that.

Q: But how badly does what you call Mr. [Slade] Gorton's mistake hurt you?

Lawrence: I don't think it has any relevance to the case as I explained and I have talked a lot about it today. You heard about it. I'm not sure there's much more to add after an hour and a half of talking.

Q: Well, the problem is our audience doesn't get to see your hour and a half, but briefly, you say no relevance to the case at all. The other side seemed to make it the heart of their case.

Lawrence: That's why there's litigation.

Q: Doesn't it seem like the judge thinks it's relevant? She kept bringing it up?

Lawrence: I'm not going to comment on any of the judge's questions or comments.

Q: What was your reaction to the picture of the brain?

Lawrence: I'm not going to comment on the performance of opposing counsel, either.

Q: No, just your impression about it, not commenting on it.

Lawrence: It's all part of a closing package. So that's all I have to say.

Q: Are you prepared to cut ties with the city after the case if that's what the judge mandates?

Lawrence: Again, what I said in court, this case is not about K & L Gates. It's not about Mr. [Slade] Gorton. It's about the city of Seattle and their citizens and their desire to keep the Sonics here and that's what's important.

Q: How about the tie, can you talk about the tie [Lawrence was wearing a green-and-gold striped tie].

Yeah, you've got to explain the tie.

Lawrence: OK, if you really want to know about the tie, I did want a tie that had Sonics' colors in it. I went shopping before the case and I wore a tie that had sort of a forest green and pale yellow on the first day of trial. But I couldn't find a tie like this, and I don't know if I should plug a certain store, but anyway, a certain store got this tie in and not only did my wife buy it for me that day, but one of my trial-team members also bought it for me that day. It was newly arrived in Seattle and now newly arrived in my wardrobe.

Q: Do you see this in any way as if you win you lose because if they stay here, they pay the two years of the lease, but then you're left with the rest of the bonds to pay off, whereas they had offered previously to pay off the bonds?

Ceis: Well from the very beginning, this case hasn't just been about money. It's about keeping the Sonics to the deal they made back in 1994. It was about ensuring that we had a tenant in KeyArena, a very unique tenant and the only tenant that can fit the bill, why we remodeled KeyArena. It was about the intangible benefits to the city that Paul described in his closing. So this case has always been -- for the city -- more than just about the money. It's been about the performance of the team in KeyArena and all the benefits that accrues to the residents of Seattle.

Q: Mr. Lawrence, will you appeal if it doesn't come out in your favor?

Lawrence: The city makes that determination.

Q: Mr. Ceis, will you appeal if it doesn't come out the way you would like to see?

Ceis: You know, I'm not going to speculate on that because I feel really good about how the trial and today went. I'm looking forward to the judge's ruling and I very much hope it's going to be a favorable ruling for the city.

Q: What about the statements made in closing arguments that the marriage is broken? Does the city believe the marriage is broken?

Ceis: No, I think that if we can get back to the terms of the lease, and we can all abide by the terms of the lease that we can have a good, strong business relationship through the term of that lease. This all started because Mr. Bennett decided he wanted to break the lease and leave early. If that had not occurred, we would be working through a regular business relationship with him, and I think we can get back to that.
Q: So if it's next Wednesday, 4 p.m., the judge posts her decision. What happens Thursday morning?

Ceis: Depends on the decision, doesn't it?

Q: If it's in your favor, what happens?

Ceis: Thursday morning we reach out to the management of the Sonics organization and ensure they have everything they need to work with us toward a successful season next year.

Q: Mr. Lawrence, why did you choose in your closing statement to not include the evidence of the e-mails concerning what appeared to be their insincere stance here?

That's the type of legal strategy that is not appropriate to comment on. If you read our [motion], I think you would have some understanding that we don't think that it's relevant other than as to Mr. Bennett's credibility.

Q: Mr. Lawrence, or both of you actually, what have you learned in the last six days that makes you feel more likely the team is staying? What has come out of this trial that you feel better worse?

Lawrence: I think I just say that hopefully you don't want to learn anything new. When you go into a case, you know the evidence you want to get in, and we think we got the evidence in to prove the city is entitlement to specific performance and that's the argument we presented to the court this morning and this afternoon.

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July 2008

June 2008

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