|Sonics, Seattle, NBA wait for judge's decision|
|Written by Admin|
|Friday, 27 June 2008 13:49|
``Some will go back to work. And some will party. I'll do a little of both,'' Seattle Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis joked Thursday after the end of the trial over the remaining two years on the Sonics' lease at KeyArena.
Fans in Seattle are looking for a reason to party after a testy six-day court battle in which both sides scored points.
Seattle claimed the Sonics have to fulfill a ``specific performance'' clause and play out the lease at the NBA's smallest venue.
The team countered that owner Clay Bennett should be able to write a check to satisfy the final two years of the lease because specific performance shouldn't apply in a garden-variety dispute between tenant and landlord. The Sonics also highlighted underhanded tactics designed to drain Bennett financially and keep the team in Seattle.
Now both sides are joining the NBA and fans of the city's oldest professional sports team in waiting for U.S. District Court Judge Marsha Pechman's ruling, which she will post on the court's Web site Wednesday at 4 p.m. local time.
``You have given me a lot to consider,'' Pechman said after closing arguments ended Thursday afternoon. ``Stay tuned.''
Yet Pechman's ruling won't be the final determination on where the Sonics play next season. Ceis brushed off the prospect for now, but either side could appeal the decision to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. There also could be a separate trial in Seattle to decide monetary compensation, if Pechman decides any is warranted.
To hear Paul Lawrence talk, he already knows what's going to happen. Then again, as the city's attorney, he's biased.
``I'm sorry. I'm a litigator. I always expect to win,'' Lawrence said.
The confidence on the city's side stems from the belief that the lease's language of specific performance - that the team must occupy KeyArena through the 2009-10 season - trumps all else in the case.
Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels has already rejected Bennett's settlement offer of $26.5 million.
``We intend to have the Sonics be a part of our community for a long, long time,'' Nickels said in April and reiterated last week on the witness stand.
The Sonics intend to be a part of Nickels' community for only five more days.
They see their victory in the involvement of former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton in the plan to inflict financial harm on Bennett in the hope it would force him to sell the team to local investors. They don't believe Gorton could have been involved without the knowledge of Seattle's top leaders. City officials hired Gorton, now an attorney in the same firm as Lawrence, to lead their effort to keep the Sonics.
Evidence presented last week showed a document titled ``The Sonics Challenge, Why a Poisoned Well Affords a Unique Opportunity,'' was carried by Gorton to a meeting at the home of former Sonics president Wally Walker last September. Also present were former Safeco Corp. CEO Mike McGavick and Microsoft Corp. chief executive Steve Ballmer.
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.
Lawrence said he didn't learn anything new during the trial.
Sonics attorney Brad Keller had a different perspective, citing the revelation of the ``poisoned well'' plan discussed at the September meeting.
``You go from just a lawful exercise (of seeking fulfillment of the lease) into the realm of 'unclean hands,''' Keller said, referring to the legal principal that courts can use to void contracts.
The team used that evidence to counter months of public ridicule over damning e-mails between Bennett and his partners that showed they were eager to move the team to Oklahoma soon after they bought it in 2006.
``Enough is enough. The marriage is broken. Stop the bleeding,'' Keller said to end his closing arguments.
Bennett sat next to the defense table each day of the trial - except for the two days and part of a third he testified that he believed he could get a new arena built in the Seattle suburbs that would have benefited everyone.
A spokesman for Bennett said the Oklahoma businessman would not be commenting until after the judge's decision.