SEATTLE - Pro basketball fans in Seattle and Oklahoma City have six days to sweat out whether the Sonics will be moving before the upcoming basketball season.
Lawyers for the City of Seattle and the Seattle SuperSonics owners made their final pitches this afternoon over whether the team has live up to it's lease at KeyArena through 2010.
During closing arguments at the six day trial Thursday, the city argued that the Sonics are a unique tenant that cannot be replaced and that the owners, the Professional Basketball Club led by Clay Bennett, knew what they were getting into when they signed the deal.
Web producer Travis Pittman has been in the courthouse throughout the trial, providing up-to-the-minute on KING5.com.
The city's lead attorney Paul Lawrence told Judge Marsha Pechman that there is no out clause for the Sonics and that there was nothing in the lease that said the city of Seattle would keep KeyArena as a state-of-the-art facility. He says the only thing that has changed since the lease began 13 years ago is what the owners want.
The Sonics say the city had unclean hands due to the effort from a private investor group to try and force the Sonics owners to sell. Lead attorney Brad Keller showed video testimony from Mayor Greg Nickels who said he was hoping the team would be sold.
Keller also argued that there was a conflict of interest involving former Sen. Slade Gorton. Gorton was working for K&L Gates, the law firm representing the city, at the same time he was part of a group involving private investors working on a plan to potentially force the PBC to sell through financial bleeding. He illustrated this with a graphic of a human brain, split between the city's lawyers and the investment group lawyers.
"Are we to assume the left side wasn't talking to the right side?" an incredulous Keller said. "That defies logic. That defies common sense."
After closing arguments concluded, Pechman said she still has much to review but knows that both sides have a tight time frame. She plans to post her decision next Wednesday at 4 p.m.
At stake is whether the Sonics will have to play the next two years at KeyArena or if they can move to Oklahoma now. The loser is likely to appeal. If the Sonics win, a separate trial will be held to determine damages.
Former Sonics owner Howard Schultz is also waiting to have his lawsuit heard. He wants the 2006 sale rescinded, citing breach of contract, and have the team placed in trust until local ownership can be found. Judge Pechman will hear that case as well.
The day started with a wrap up of testimony from Seattle City Councilmember Nick Licata. He testified that during the campaign for Initiative 91 in 2006, he cited studies that showed the Sonics had a minimal economic impact. In addition, the Sonics' attorneys pulled out a Sports Illustrated article from spring of that year in which Licata said a departure by the Sonics from Seattle would have a near zero economic or cultural impact.
The city countered, showing an e-mail sent by Licata to citizens saying the remark was "glib" and "foolish" and that he was trying to clumsily point out that Seattle is a world-class city, with or without the Sonics.
After Licata, the city tried to call Seattle Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis as a rebuttal witness in order to show he had no knowledge of the "poisoned well" PowerPoint presentation in October 2007. The men involved in that included former Sonics President Wally Walker, Gorton, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and Seattle developer Matt Griffin. Gorton was working for K&L Gates - the law firm representing the city in this lawsuit. Walker had been retained as a consultant by K&L Gates. Ballmer and Griffin were part of a potential new ownership group.
Lawrence said the purpose of calling Ceis was to disconnect the city from knowledge of the PowerPoint, but the Sonics' legal team contended that during pre-trial depositions, Ceis was barred from answering those questions due to attorney-client privilege. They claimed that suddenly calling Ceis to answer those questions gave them no time to prepare for his testimony.
Judge Pechman sided with the Sonics, saying "You can't use privilege as a shield and then turn around and use it as a sword."
This all comes the same day as the Sonics prepare for Thursday night's NBA Draft, holding the fourth overall pick.