Shaquille O'Neal apparently has a better chance at hitting two straight foul shots than the Sonics had at having their arena dispute resolved through arbitration. A federal judge in Washington state on Monday added insult to injury when he wittily denied the Sonics' request to have their lease dispute with the city of Seattle settled by a panel of arbitrators. In a written order, U.S. District Court Judge Ricardo Martinez ruled that the Sonics' case must stay in his court, adding that the team's Oklahoma-based ownership group's arguments to terminate their lease early were "as errant as a typical Shaquille O'Neal free throw.” O'Neal, the Miami Heat's 11-time All-Star center, is a career 52.5-percent shooter at the foul line. Team owners and spokesmen couldn't be reached for comment, but a statement released by the ownership group's attorneys late Monday night said the ownership was pleased to have a prompt decision. "It's important to note that the decision addresses the forum in which the dispute will be decided, not the merits of the case,” the statement read. "The Sonics owners are confident that they can perform their financial obligations under the lease and that the city is not entitled to specific performance.” Attorneys for the city of Seattle couldn't be reached Monday. Seattle officials are arguing that the Sonics should not be allowed to vacate KeyArena until their Premises Use and Occupancy Agreement expires in 2010. Seattle attorneys are citing a clause in the contract known as specific performance that requires the Sonics to schedule and play all home games at KeyArena through 2010. The Sonics contend the city cannot force the franchise to stay and play at KeyArena if the team fulfills its financial payments for the remaining years of the arena contract. 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 Wednesday. But Martinez now appears to be the mediator who will ultimately decide whether the Sonics can relocate next season or must wait until 2010. No hearing dates have been scheduled, however, and a trial could take months to commence. It's unclear whether attorneys for the Sonics intend to appeal Martinez's decision. But under federal law, they have the option to file a unique appeal known as an interlocutory appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which hears most U.S. District Court cases on the West Coast including those from Washington. But given the timeliness involved with any franchise seeking relocation — the NBA has a March 1 deadline to apply for the following season — the Sonics might opt for a speedier resolution. An arbitration ruling likely would have resulted in that outcome. Although the Sonics never publicly stated why they wanted the dispute resolved by a panel of arbitrators, the method is confidential unlike litigation, and it involves up to three decision makers ruling on their interpretation of the law and the case's facts rather than only one. Martinez, meanwhile, coldly shot down the Sonics in his written order, with the basis of his ruling focusing mostly on the term of the team's use agreement, which might suggest Martinez's view on the Sonics' attempt to vacate KeyArena early. "(The ownership group's) arguments ignore the clear (lease) language of Article II, which states that (the group's) use and occupancy rights with respect to the premises and the term of this agreement shall end on Sept. 30, 2010,” Martinez wrote.