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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 3:25 PM

Sonics' lawyer: If team stays, trouble could be ahead

Posted by Danny O'Neil

Sonics lawyer Brad Keller concluded his closing argument by pointing to the potential for continued disputes.

Keller cited everything from the marketing of suites to the selection of home dates. Keller said that if the city desired to maximize losses, it could give the Sonics less desirable dates for home games while assigning other dates to other tenants.

Keller said he wasn't there to predict the city and franchise would be "mud wrestling" over all sorts of things, but that the potential for dispute exists

"The judicial concern is if they arise," Keller said. "If they arise, courts just don't want to be in the business of telling the operator how to run his business."

Paul Lawrence, attorney for the city, has 3 minutes left for a rebuttal.

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June 26, 2008 3:14 PM

Is a lease like a marriage?

Posted by Danny O'Neil

Brad Keller, Sonics attorney, cited the loss of personnel and the dwindling opportunities for sponsorship at KeyArena and the general difficulty in marketing a team whose brand is being associated with "abandonment."

He then posed two rhetorical questions about why this relationship has reached this point.

"Why is it that there is not a single Washington court (that) has ever specifically enforced a lease?" Keller asked. "Why is it that courts refuse to enforce a marriage?"

Keller also pointed out that ending the city's association with the K&L Gates law firm doesn't solve all the problems in the city's relationship with the team. Keller also said Mayor Greg Nickels has expressed a desire to have local owners buy the team.

"You can get rid of the lawyers, but you can't get rid of the mayor," Keller said.

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June 26, 2008 3:06 PM

Sonics lawyer suggests team's financial losses will only worsen at KeyArena

Posted by Danny O'Neil

The closing statement by Brad Keller, the Sonics lead ttorney, resumed after an afternoon break. Keller discussed financial losses that have exceeded all expectations.

The implication, Keller said, is that those losses will only get worse if forced to stay at KeyArena.

"To what end?" Keller asked.

Is it because Mayor Greg Nickels' said he's an optimist, Keller said.

"That PBC (Sonics owners) will drown in red ink and forced to sell to the Griffin Gang?" Keller said.

The reality, he said, is that four separate times under three different ownership groups, the Sonics have lobbied the state Legislature to fund an arena upgrade.

"The city had five years of chances to fix the problem and we're here today because it couldn't," Keller said.

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June 26, 2008 2:43 PM

K & L Gates -- a big law firm with a divided brain?

Posted by Danny O'Neil

Sonics lawyer Brad Keller's closing argument included a diagram of the K&L Gates law firm two halves of one brain.

The city's lawyers were shown in green and located on the left side of the brain. The Griffin Group's (Seattle developer Matt Griffin is one of the investors interested in buying the Sonics) lawyers were in blue and on the right. Keller asked if it's really believable that those two sides of the brain were not communicating with each other as one side worked to represent the city in enforcing the lease with the Sonics while the other worked in a separate endeavor to preserve professional basketball in Seattle.

"That's contrary to logic and that's contrary to common sense and if there was even some fleck of plausibility, the law doesn't allow a principal to act as a horse with blinders on," Keller said.

Keller said the specific-performance is being used as a point of a sword to affect the sale of the Sonics. Well, actually, Keller called those two years remaining on the lease a bludgeon, as the city was seeking to force the tenant to sell.

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June 26, 2008 2:33 PM

Sonics lawyer says "Poisoned Well" plan made him feel ashamed

Posted by Danny O'Neil

Brad Keller, lead attorney for the Sonics, began his closing argument talking about the complexities of contract law and how it applies to a lease. He disputed the characterization of the Washington Supreme Court case by the city's attorney, Paul Lawrence, in his closing. Keller said that was a one-shot real-estate deal and this is a lease case.

Keller then turned his attention to the so-called "Poisoned Well" plan, and said it showed a level of scheming that embarrassed him.

"This is my town, too," Keller said. "But I felt shamed by those among us who live in power and privilege and have not learned that the end does not justify the means."

Keller's also pointed out that two days after the "Poisoned Well" Power Point presentation was made at the home of former Sonics President Wally Walker, that Walker's calendar indicated he had a meeting at K&L Gates that included former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton and Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis.

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June 26, 2008 2:12 PM

Judge questions Gorton's roles with city and investment group

Posted by Danny O'Neil

The city's lead lawyer Paul Lawrence concluded his closing argument,and Judge Marsha Pechman asked about former U.S. Senator Slade Gorton's role working for the K&L Gates law firm, which represented the city and also was involved with an effort to preserve professional basketball in the area. Those twin roles were spelled in the letter in which the city retained K&L Gates.

Pechman brought up the fact that Gorton attended a meeting with the NBA where Clay Bennett was present to discuss the viability of a remodeled KeyArena. The parties were required to sign an agreement not to discuss the contents of that meeting.

Pechman referenced the fact that the next day Gorton sent an e-mail to members of Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's investment group (which wanted to put up money to renovate KeyArena and buy the team) about what was discussed.

"I can not explain Mr. Gorton's actions," Lawrence said.

"But that's the city's action because that's Mr. Gorton," Pechman said, and Gorton signed the non-disclosure agreement while in the meeting to represent the city.

Lawrence said there was no evidence that the city directed Gorton to send that e-mail and also noted that the e-mail was not sent to anyone with city.

"There is no evidence that links Mr. Gorton's action with the city," Lawrence said.

Pechman then asked about the possibility of severing K&L Gates representation with the city in this matter, after the case. Lawrence said that is something that's entirely within the judge's discretion.

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June 26, 2008 1:58 PM

Sonics are irreplaceable, city's lawyer says

Posted by Danny O'Neil

The Sonics trial resumed at 1:30 p.m. with Paul Lawrence, lead attorney for the city, having 30 minutes left to conclude his case. Lawrence began the afternoon session by emphasizing the uniqueness of the Sonics as a tenant. Having an NBA team is something that just can't be replaced.

"It can't be replaced with money and cannot be replaced with another tenant, with Ice Capades or other events," Lawrence said.

Lawrence also presented a timeline showing that city officials twice said the city intended to enforce the lease, first in July 2006 after Clay Bennett's group purchased the team and again in May 2007 when Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels rejected a buyout offer.

Lawrence drew the comparison to land disputes. In those cases, he pointed out, damages can be assessed in terms of specific performance and not based on fair-market value. In essence, the courts have decided that the purchaser has a special relationship with the land being bought. The connection there is that the city has a special relationship with its basketball-team tenant. And that's a relationship that can't simply be dealt with in monetary damages.

"Simply being awarded a dollar amount is not going to make the city equal to whatever benefits it perceives are associated with the team," Lawrence said. "You can't put a number to it."

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June 26, 2008 12:41 PM

Pechman asks about Sonics' sentimental importance

Posted by Danny O'Neil

Judge Marsha Pechman's inquiry shifted to the sentimental importance of the franchise, and she asked the city's lead lawyer Paul Lawrence to explain whether that was a valid issue, given that the city is essentially a corporation. The term she used was "corporate tears," and that this was essentially a contract issue between a corporation (the city) and a business (the team).

Lawrence said the sentimental feelings of constituents represents a foundation for public policy argued in the Washington Supreme Court case from 1996 involving the baseball stadium. The court recognized that Safeco Field was a valid use of public funds because it did bring benefits to the city, and that the use of those public funds is at the discretion of the city leaders.

After a lunch break, Lawrence will continue his closing argument at 1:30 p.m.

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City and the Sonics discussing settlement?

Jul 2, 08 - 06:00 AM
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Jun 26, 08 - 07:44 PM
Confidential? Let's talk about it: Slade Gorton's NBA meeting

Jun 26, 08 - 07:22 PM
Press conference audio

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July 2008

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Recent stories

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
Sonics CEO: Fans are apathetic
Clay's excuses sound as contrived as his arena plan
On the hot seat: Sonics' attorney trips up Nickels
Attorneys in Sonics case described as tenacious, polite
This judge will decide the fate of the Sonics
Seattle vs. Sonics: Trial starts next week, if there's no settlement
Take a closer look at the Sonics case
More revealing Sonics e-mails emerge
OKC officials inform Schultz they expect Sonics to relocate, no matter who owns team
Sonics e-mail hints at NBA's concern over breach of promise
Howard Schultz suit adds fuel to e-mail fire
NBA owners approve Sonics' move, but legal fight continues in Seattle
E-mails reveal Sonics owners intended to bolt from Seattle
Oklahoma House passes tax package designed to help lure Sonics

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
Gallery | 25th anniversary of Sonics world championship
Gallery | End of a Season, End of a Franchise?
Sports fan "Big Lo" seeks answers from Howard Schultz

Fans weigh in about the state of the Sonics
Cartoon | Schultz jumps into action
Talk about the team in the Sonics forum

Other links

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

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