Excerpts from Clay Bennett's April 23 deposition
(Unless otherwise specified, questions were asked by Paul Lawrence, an attorney for the city of Seattle, while the answers were given by...
(Unless otherwise specified, questions were asked by Paul Lawrence, an attorney for the city of Seattle, while the answers were given by Bennett. Brad Keller, a Seattle attorney, represented Bennett during the deposition and also shows up in the excerpts. At times, the attorneys bickered over the questions being asked.)
Q: For a period of time did you message that the team fully intends to honor its lease to KeyArena until 2010?
A: As we've discussed before, I certainly did.
Q: At what point did you decide that you wanted to breach the lease and get out?
A: Well, I've never decided and don't — don't feel today that we want to breach the lease to get out. We did make a decision I suppose in the fall that it was — it would be in our best interest to understand more clearly our rights and obligations under the lease more clearly than perhaps I had understood them...
Q: Well what you want to do is breach the lease and pay damages to the city. Isn't that fair?
A: No, that's not, that's not my — that's not what I want to do.
Q: What do you want to do? Do you want to fulfill the lease?
A: I want to fulfill the lease pursuant to a legal determination that if — if — if — if a judge determines that the lease can be fulfilled via a certain remedy, then we want to fulfill the lease via that judgment. ...
A: In my mind I'm not breaching the lease. I'm not attempting to breach the lease.
Q: You want to honor the lease?
A: I'm going to honor that lease and honor my obligations and understand our rights and abide by that ruling.
Q: You want the court to look at the lease —
Mr. Keller: I'm going to object. This is —
Mr. Lawrence: And —
Mr. Keller: Excuse me.
Mr. Lawrence: Well you can object when I make a question. Let me answer — ask the question and then you make your objection and then you can, you know, go on. Okay? All right?
Mr. Keller: This is argumentative.
Mr. Lawrence: You haven't heard my question yet.
Mr. Keller: It's repetitive, it's counter productive. The claims are framed in the pleadings. To sit here and ask a witness about what he's claiming is just — it's a waste of time. But I'm going to allow a few more questions. If you keep going I'm going to stop you.
Mr. Lawrence: Do what you need to do.
Q: So I'm just trying something. You want the Court to look at the lease, look at the lease terms, take into account that you want to honor the lease and see if there's a way that you cannot play your games there for the last two seasons?
A: Via, via a remedy, which I suppose is a monetary remedy to the citizens, to the city.
Q: And what is the — is there any reason that you believe you shouldn't have to play your games at KeyArena?
A: Well I think it's come to the point in Seattle that this, this issue has become — it's become ugly, it's become a distraction, it's become a very negative element in the lives of many people that are third party related to it, primarily in my concern our team and coaches and our staff, and in that we have met our obligations to attempt to have a successor venue developed, we've failed in our efforts to develop a relative lease.
Bennett's "man possessed" e-mail
Q: Now, it's been reported that what you were discussing here was that you were a man possessed to do everything you can to keep the team in Seattle.
Q: Is that what you believe you were communicating here?
A: I absolutely, absolutely was communicating that. When I heard the other night from [Seattle Times reporter] Jim Brunner via e-mail that he would like me to respond to this notion that they had — the city had discovered that, I think his headline was 'Sonics intended to bolt all along,' I was shocked because I remember writing that e-mail and I remember feeling passionate about the fact that we're going to find a way to get this done, that the game is now just getting started ... "
Q: Let me just make sure I understand this e-mail chain. So Mr. Ward writes to you — he doesn't write to you is there any way that we can get a deal done in Seattle for the next umpteen years, does he? That's not what he's asking?
A: I lost my place.
Q: Mr. Ward is not asking you whether there was any way to get a deal done to keep the team in Seattle for the next —
Q: — several years.
A: No. And I'm not responding to him. I'm making a statement to him about where I am.
Q: Well, it is a literal e-mail response to his e-mail. You would agree with that?
A: It's a mechanical, it's a mechanical response. ...
Q: Did you write back to Mr. Ward and say, oh, Tom, you've got it wrong, I'm not — I'm not saying anything about wanting to get the team to Oklahoma City, I'm talking about my commitment to keep the team in Seattle?
A: No, I did not. I just dropped off. I knew where Tom and Aubrey were relative to their interests and I knew where I was and that was the statement I made, so I dropped off. And also I think I was responding to other e-mails at the time.
(Lawrence then asks about Bennett's April 2007 e-mail to NBA executive Joel Litvin in which Bennett suggests moving the Sonics to Oklahoma City.)
Q: So, just so it's clear, four days after you were a man possessed to keep the team in Seattle, you were asking discussions with the NBA about the option of relocating the Sonics to Oklahoma City. Is that fair?
A: I'm having a conversation that is raising the notion of Oklahoma City as a potential relocation option, notwithstanding my ongoing commitment to efforts in Seattle.
Sonics' financial losses
(Lawrence shows Bennett a document detailing the financial situation if the team remains at KeyArena through 2010.)
Q: ... the Sonics are projected to lose 60.9 million to 64.9 million in the aggregate during the two years lame duck period. Correct?
A: Yes, including — I mean including what — what is being identified here as the lame duck, lame duck delta, for lack of a better description.
Q: So if you put aside the lame duck effect, the — the range of loss might be something less than 50 million but may be as high as 55 million. Is that right?
A: That is — that's their assessment. This year we had a cash loss of approximately $32 million.
Q: And what does this show you in terms of what profit, if any, the team expects to make in the 2008-09 season if — if it moves to Oklahoma City?
A: This report suggests that the profit would be $7.3 million.
Q: Okay. And then for the 2009-10 season, what does this report suggest the profit would be?
A: $11.5 million.
Q: So is it — if you were to looking at the net anticipated impact of moving the team to Oklahoma City, it would be the fact that on the one hand you could avoid $60-to-$65 million of losses and instead end up gaining $18.8 million?
A: Whatever that math is, but yes, a huge swing from a loss to a profit.
Plenty of bickering
(Lawrence questions Bennett about his efforts in the Washington Legislature to land an arena deal, but the deposition descends into an argument between Lawrence and Keller.)
Q: And the commitment is to keep the team in the region —
Mr. Keller: Are you reading from something?
Mr. Lawrence: I'm reading from his testimony.
Mr. Keller: Then show it to him.
Mr. Lawrence: Well, if he wants to look at it that's fine. I don't have and extra copy of it.
Mr. Keller: If you want him to agree that that was his testimony —
Mr. Lawrence: If he doesn't recall it he can tell me he doesn't recall it.
Mr. Keller: You know, you're being really obnoxious. Did you not get a good night's sleep?
Mr. Lawrence: I got plenty of sleep.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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