View Full Version : Seattle Times: "City says Bennett's sincerity no longer a key issue."

05-29-2008, 02:35 PM
Sonics | City says Bennett's sincerity no longer a key issue | Seattle Times Newspaper (

City says Bennett's sincerity no longer a key issue

By Jim Brunner

Seattle Times staff reporter

Lawyers for Seattle have spent the past few months digging up and publicizing a steady stream of embarrassing e-mails from Sonics owners, arguing they prove Clay Bennett's Oklahoma City partnership never made a good-faith attempt to keep the team here.

But with a trial looming in less than three weeks, the city's attorneys are now claiming that Bennett's intentions are essentially irrelevant to the lawsuit over whether the Sonics must play through the end of the KeyArena lease in September 2010.

As part of a flurry of pretrial motions filed this week, Seattle's attorneys asked U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman to prohibit Bennett from delving into how much time and money he spent trying to persuade state lawmakers to approve a $500 million arena in Renton.

Bennett has said he spent millions of dollars and exhausted every reasonable arena possibility in the Seattle area before deciding to move the Sonics to Oklahoma City. His attorneys were expected to detail at trial how much he spent on lobbyists and consultants.

But the sincerity of Bennett's arena efforts is "irrelevant to whether the Lease is valid, fair, or clear; whether damages are an adequate remedy for breach of the Lease," the city's attorneys argued in their motion.

Those questions should be reserved for a separate lawsuit filed by former Sonics owner Howard Schultz, the city argued. That lawsuit seeks to undo the 2006 sale of the Sonics, accusing Bennett of violating a promise contained in his purchase agreement to make "good faith best efforts" on an arena deal in the Seattle area for at least a year.

That's just one of several battles over what evidence and witnesses should be allowed at the trial, scheduled to begin June 16.

The Sonics want to prevent the city from calling local sports-radio host Mitch Levy and author Sherman Alexie as witnesses.

The city intends to call Levy, the host of KJR-AM's "Mitch in the Morning" program, to testify about fan interest in the Sonics. Alexie, a Sonics season ticketholder who has been writing a regular "Sonics Death Watch" column for the Stranger newspaper, is supposed to testify about the team's importance, especially to minority communities.

"Neither has any relevant testimonial knowledge. Both will only fuel the growing media circus. Both should be excluded," the Sonics' attorneys argued in their court filing, citing Alexie's "profanity-laced" views about Bennett's group.

Meanwhile, the city has asked Pechman to exclude several other pieces of evidence and arguments the Sonics want to raise at the coming trial:

A poll conducted for the Sonics in January that found nearly two-thirds of 600 Seattle-area residents believed the team's departure would "make no difference" or that they would be "better off." By contrast, 57 percent of those polled said they'd be upset if the Mariners or Seahawks left. Seattle's attorneys argued the poll is irrelevant to the KeyArena lease and was tainted because it was conducted while the Sonics "were on their way to their worst record ever."

Any evidence of "dysfunction" in the relationship between the city and the team. Sonics lawyers have cited the antagonistic relationship between current team owners and city leaders to argue the team should be allowed to leave KeyArena in exchange for a cash payment. But Seattle's lawyers argued that such personal feelings should not affect a "fully enforceable commercial contract."

Evidence about a potential Sonics ownership group led by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. The Sonics have described Seattle's efforts to force a team sale to Ballmer as "a Machiavellian plan" that gives the city "unclean hands" in the lease case. But Seattle's attorneys argued that "there is nothing wrong with the city having discussions with a local group that wants to bring an NBA franchise to a renovated KeyArena."

Statements by individual Seattle City Council members if the Sonics are claiming those statements represent the city's official position with regard to the team. For example, Sonics lawyers have cited Councilmember Nick Licata's February 2006 remark to Sports Illustrated that the economic impact of the team's departure would be "near zero." (He apologized for the remark a few months later.) Seattle's attorneys said such comments should not be taken as "a binding admission" on behalf of the entire city.

Paul Lawrence, an attorney with K&L Gates who is representing the city, said the series of pretrial motions is "an effort to keep the trial focused on what we think are the limited issues around specific performance [of the KeyArena lease]."

A spokesman for Bennett said the team would have no comment on the latest legal maneuvers.

A pretrial hearing in the Sonics lawsuit is set for June 6.

The six-day bench trial is scheduled to begin June 16 in federal court in Seattle.

Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or

05-29-2008, 02:38 PM
The e-mails were always irrelevant. It's the kitchen-sink type lawsuit Seattle was promoting. Now all of a sudden they are above the fray? Nice try. I wonder if they've gotten any feedback from the NBA, or from whence cometh this change of heart?

05-29-2008, 03:21 PM
Nah, betts, the city wants those issues excluded because of the clean hands doctrine. If the PBC can show that Seattle was actively conspiring to undo the Renton deal and interfere with their current obligations under the lease, there can be big problems.

05-29-2008, 07:57 PM
AW! you beat me to posting it.