Former Sonics president Wally Walker takes stand Print
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Friday, 20 June 2008 11:23
NBA Headline News

 SEATTLE (AP) -The SuperSonics said in court Friday that the city of Seattle tried to make it too expensive for them to leave town.
The accusations stemmed from a previously sealed document that was admitted Friday as an exhibit in the city's lawsuit against the team. It discussed ``locking them into losses'' and exposing ``the league to embarrassment in a market they like.''
Owner Clay Bennett, who bought the team in 2006 for $350 million, is trying to move the Sonics to Oklahoma City, his hometown, saying the team could lose $60 million if forced to stay for the final two years of its lease at KeyArena, the NBA's smallest venue.
The city is asking U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman to enforce its terms, hoping two more years would be enough time to find a way to keep the Sonics - or at least another NBA team - in town.
Titled ``The Sonics Challenge, Why a Poisoned Well Affords a Unique Opportunity,'' the document was carried by former Sen. Slade Gorton to a meeting at the home of former Sonics president Wally Walker last September. Also present were Microsoft Corp. chief executive Steve Ballmer and former Safeco Corp. CEO Mike McGavick.
The hour-and-a-half meeting and e-mails about it were the focus of questioning when Walker took the witness stand Friday.
``You wanted to make it too expensive to leave?'' Sonics lawyer Paul Taylor asked Walker.
``Oh, I think that's true, yes,'' he answered. ``I would have been fine with whatever it took to keep them from moving the team.''
Citing the ``poisoned well'' strategy, Sonics attorneys argued that the city brought its lawsuit in an attempt to bleed Bennett's ownership group, the Professional Basketball Club, hoping that the expense of litigation would induce him to sell to a local owner. Because the lawsuit was brought in bad faith, the city has ``unclean hands,'' and should not be allowed to reap the benefits of its actions in court, they say.
In response, the city insisted that by definition, suing to enforce its rights under the lease cannot be considered bad faith. Furthermore, its lawyers argued, the city cannot force the team to sell.
Seattle lawyer Paul Lawrence objected to the admission of the ``poisoned well'' document as an exhibit, saying the city had no hand in creating it. Walker testified that it was primarily drawn up by McGavick, who was working on his own as a concerned citizen and basketball fan.
Lawrence was overruled: At the time of the meeting, Gorton had been hired as Seattle's lead counsel, Walker had been retained as a consultant, and Ballmer was considered a potential buyer for the team.
Walker also expressed his frustration with a ``lack of leadership'' by state politicians during an attempt in 2006 to win support for a KeyArena renovation.
Walker finished on the stand just before noon and was followed by Matt Griffin, a Seattle developer who led a group of local residents who tried to buy the team from Bennett.
Friday was expected to be the final day of testimony, with closing arguments set for next Thursday. If Pechman rules that the team can leave, a separate trial would be held to determine what damages the team must pay the city for breaking the lease.
 

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