A Thursday hearing has been scheduled for the court case between the Sonics and the city of Seattle. The hearing is scheduled for oral arguments at 1:30 p.m. Seattle time and will be heard by Judge Ricardo Martinez, a U.S. District Court Judge for the Western District of Washington. It will mark the first court appearance by each party’s representatives since the city of Seattle filed its lawsuit against the team on Sept. 24.
The case’s initial hearing was scheduled to take place last Wednesday before Judge Harry McCarthy in King County Superior Court. But attorneys for the Sonics last Tuesday filed a motion to move the case to federal court. Martinez called Thursday’s hearing to begin determining whether the case will remain in court or should be allowed to be settled by a panel of arbitrators. Seattle officials are arguing that the Sonics should not be allowed to vacate KeyArena until their KeyArena Premises Use and Occupancy Agreement expires in 2010. Attorneys for the Sonics contend the city should not be able to force the franchise to remain at KeyArena if the team fulfills its financial payments for the remaining years of the arena contract. The Sonics argue that the dispute is arbitrable. It’s unclear how Martinez will act Thursday. He could make an immediate ruling on the matter, or he could notify both parties that a decision will come at a later date. Meanwhile, the city of Seattle last week filed a demand for a jury trial, continuing a string of counter moves by both sides. Sonics chairman Clay Bennett has said he would apply with the NBA for relocation to Oklahoma City if a plan for a new publicly-funded arena is not available in Washington by Oct. 31.