Sonics' lawyers want records unsealed
Lawyers for Sonics owner Clay Bennett asked a federal judge Friday to unseal documents they said reveal an "unseemly alliance" among Seattle...
Seattle Times staff reporter
Lawyers for Sonics owner Clay Bennett asked a federal judge Friday to unseal documents they said reveal an "unseemly alliance" among Seattle officials, a powerful law firm and a potential Sonics ownership group led by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.
The documents were turned over recently by Seattle developer Matt Griffin as part of discovery in the lawsuit over the Sonics' KeyArena lease. But Griffin designated his documents "confidential" or "attorney's eyes only" — meaning they cannot be publicly disclosed or quoted in court filings.
The Sonics first sought to make many of Griffin's documents public last month, but submitted another filing Friday, citing a new batch of e-mails and other records "just obtained" from Griffin.
Those new records provide further evidence, the Sonics lawyers said, of "a scheme" to use the city's lease lawsuit "to create financial bleeding" to force Bennett's Oklahoma-based ownership group to sell the Sonics.
Because the filing refers to confidential documents, the actual e-mails and other records are blacked out. The Sonics want the documents unsealed so they can refer to them openly in court.
Among the new documents are e-mails detailing behind-the-scenes machinations of Seattle officials and Ballmer's group — both represented at times by the law firm K&L Gates — in what the Sonics called an "embarrassing web of conflicts."
Former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton, an attorney with K&L Gates, was hired by Seattle ostensibly to pursue the city's lease lawsuit, which goes to trial next month. But Gorton also worked behind the scenes to put together Ballmer's group, which had offered to buy the Sonics and pay half the cost of a $300 million KeyArena expansion.
The new records show Gorton enlisted the help of a former Sonics executive who faxed Griffin "confidential internal Sonics/NBA financial statements," according to Friday's court filing. The executive claimed to have a "deep throat" within the NBA and was "tasked with creating discord" between the league and current Sonics owners.
While the executive's name is blacked out in the court papers, it may refer to Wally Walker, the former Sonics president and part-owner, who has been subpoenaed by Sonics attorneys for records and is scheduled to be deposed next week.
Walker said he had not seen the latest court filing, but confirmed he'd aided Ballmer's group in looking at Sonics' finances.
"It's widely known that I was helping them as they looked at the economics," he said.
Lawyers for the city have joined Griffin in trying to keep his documents secret, arguing that they involve the private discussions of "civic-minded businessmen" and are not relevant to the city's lawsuit, which seeks to enforce the Sonics' KeyArena lease through September 2010.
Sonics owners, through their local law firm, Byrnes & Keller, rejected that argument.
"Griffin may not want any of this material to surface, preferring to keep it 'in the dark.' Bluntly, it is presumptuous to expect that documents generated by a partnership between a landlord and a prospective tenant, sharing lawyers, intending to bleed the existing tenant into a sale, are entitled to court-endorsed secrecy," they wrote.
Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or email@example.com
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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