Sonics, city of Seattle trial set for June
A federal judge Tuesday set a June 16 trial date for the city of Seattle's lawsuit attempting to stop the Sonics from leaving KeyArena before...
Seattle Times staff reporter
A federal judge Tuesday set a June 16 trial date for the city of Seattle's lawsuit attempting to stop the Sonics from leaving KeyArena before 2010.
That could complicate efforts by team owner Clay Bennett to move the team to Oklahoma City by next season.
The date chosen for the six-day trial by U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman amounted to a compromise between the team, which had sought a speedy March trial, and the city, which had sought a longer trial in October.
The mid-June trial date could work in favor of the Sonics remaining in Seattle for at least one more season.
The NBA does not announce its schedule until August, but Bradley Keller, an attorney for the Sonics, told Pechman the league needs to work out the schedule much earlier.
If the case is not resolved by May, "you have, in effect, decided it" for next season, Keller said during the scheduling conference in federal court Tuesday. He added that any delay "works to the strategic advantage" of the city.
Even if the Sonics win at trial, an attorney for the city said an appeal would be likely, causing an additional delay.
The trial will certainly begin too late for the NBA Board of Governors meeting in April, at which Bennett's relocation request for next season is expected to be discussed.
But NBA spokesman Tim Frank said the league's relocation committee will continue to study Bennett's request and make a recommendation before the April meeting.
"If the board votes to approve the relocation, that approval will, of course, be subject to a legal determination that the team is free to relocate," Frank said in a written statement.
Seattle's lawsuit is an attempt to hold the Sonics to the remaining two years of the KeyArena lease, which expires in September 2010. Sonics' attorneys argue the team should be allowed to leave before then in exchange for a cash payment to the city.
Oklahoma City has been gearing up for the possibility of a Sonics move. In March, voters there will be asked to approve a $120 million sales-tax package to upgrade the Ford Center arena and build an NBA practice facility.
Although it will come later than the Sonics had hoped, the June trial will set a much quicker pace for depositions and other evidence gathering than attorneys for the city had sought.
Those depositions will draw in a cast of the rich and powerful in Seattle and Oklahoma City.
In addition to Bennett, city lawyers want to question co-owner Aubrey McClendon, who caused a furor last year when he told an Oklahoma newspaper the new owners never intended to keep the Sonics in Seattle when they purchased the team in 2006.
The city also wants to question G. Edward Evans, who initially was part of the Oklahoma City ownership group but dropped out.
Others on the city's list include Starbucks' CEO Howard Schultz, NBA representatives and Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett.
The Sonics' attorneys, meanwhile, said they intend to ask for depositions of Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis and two City Council members.
Pechman, who declined a Sonics' request to order mediation in the case, urged attorneys for both sides to cooperate and avoid unnecessary fights over the depositions and other evidence.
"I want to run the Bolshoi. I'm not running mud wrestling," she said.
Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or email@example.com
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