Federal judge won't order NBA Commissioner David Stern to testify in Sonics case
A federal judge Monday dealt some setbacks to Seattle's lawsuit against the Sonics, blocking city requests for sensitive NBA financial documents...
The Associated Press
NEW YORK — A federal judge Monday dealt some setbacks to Seattle's lawsuit against the Sonics, blocking city requests for sensitive NBA financial documents and ruling that NBA Commissioner David Stern does not have to give a deposition in the case.
U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska said she did not think some of the information Seattle sought from the NBA was necessary to press the city's claims.
But she said she could order Stern's deposition in the future if the city cannot get the information it needs after questioning other witnesses, including Stern's No. 2 man, Joel Litvin, NBA president for league and basketball operations.
Stern, attending a playoff game in Atlanta, said Monday night he was pleased with the ruling.
"I would rather spend my time working," he said. "But if the judge orders me to testify, I'll testify. We don't have anything to hide." Preska had been asked to decide what evidence the city can seek from the NBA before a June 16 trial in Seattle to decide whether the Sonics must complete the final two years of the team's KeyArena lease.
Preska rejected the city's request for the financial records of the 29 other NBA teams, calling it the city's "most intrusive request."
NBA lawyer Jeffrey Mishkin said the league considered the financial information "highly proprietary."
Despite Monday's decision, the city still will gain access to most of the information it sought about the NBA's involvement in the decision by Sonics owners to move the team to Oklahoma City, said Paul Lawrence, an attorney with K&L Gates, the firm representing Seattle in the case.
"We're going to get a lot of the information we requested, but not the finances of each team," Lawrence said.
Although the NBA had initially sought to deny most of the city's requests for information related to the Sonics' relocation, Lawrence said, the league had relented somewhat before Monday's hearing.
For example, the league agreed to make Litvin available for a wide-ranging deposition and sent thousands of pages of documents to the city.
A spokeswoman for City Attorney Tom Carr said he would have no comment on the ruling.
Seattle officials filed a lawsuit in Seattle last year to keep the Sonics from leaving town. The city asked a judge to force the Sonics, the city's oldest professional sports franchise, to stay through the end of the lease, in 2010.
Last week, Stern said the team would move to Oklahoma City either next season or in 2010 and he did not expect any legal action by the city could stop it.
If the team can settle the lawsuit over the lease, NBA owners have overwhelmingly approved the Sonics' move to Oklahoma City for the 2008-09 season.
"Our first choice was to stay in Seattle in a new building," Stern said. "Everyone knew what was coming."
Meanwhile, lawyers for the city of Seattle on Monday moved to block the public release of documents related to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's recent bid to buy the Sonics.
In a court filing in federal court in Seattle, attorneys for the city argued that the Sonics' request to make those documents public "is unreasonable on its face."
The disputed documents were handed over recently to Sonics' attorneys by developer Matt Griffin as part of Seattle's KeyArena lease lawsuit.
Griffin had acted as liaison to the city for Ballmer's four-man investor group, which had offered to buy the Sonics or another NBA team and pay half of a $300 million KeyArena expansion.
Before turning over his documents, Griffin stamped them "attorney's eyes only" — meaning they could not be revealed in public-court documents or even shown by team attorneys to their clients, Clay Bennett's Oklahoma City-based ownership group.
(Some of the documents were subsequently redesignated "confidential," allowing the clients, but not the general public, to view them.)
Attorneys for Sonics' owners argued in an April 17 motion that Griffin's documents reveal a "Machiavellian plan" to use the city's lawsuit as leverage to create financial hardships and force the team's Oklahoma-based owners to sell the team to Ballmer's local group.
The Sonics asked U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman to make virtually all the documents public.
Attorneys for the city objected in a court filing in Seattle on Monday, criticizing the Sonics' claims about the documents as "outlandish" and largely a publicity stunt.
Sonics owners had rushed to file an inflammatory motion before the recent NBA Board of Governors meeting without first engaging Griffin in "good faith" negotiations over the documents as required under federal court rules, lawyers for Seattle argued in Monday's court filing.
Seattle Times staff reporter Jim Brunner contributed to this report from Seattle.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
UPDATE - 09:46 AM
Exxon Mobil wins ruling in Alaska oil spill case
NEW - 7:51 AM
Longview man says he was tortured with hot knife
Seattle Times transportation reporter Mike Lindblom describes some of the factors that may have led to the collapse of the I-5 bridge over the Skagit River in Mount Vernon on Thursday, May 23.