Sides argue over testimony of city official

By Chris Casteel Published: June 26, 2008
SEATTLE — As the trial over relocation of the SuperSonics was set to resume for its final day in federal court, attorneys for this city argued Wednesday that the deputy mayor should be allowed to testify today that he knew nothing about a strategy discussed by local businessmen to bleed the Oklahoma City-based owners of the NBA team in hopes of making them sell.

In a brief filed in U.S. District Court here, the city's attorneys rejected the argument made by Sonics' attorneys that they would be ambushed if Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis is allowed to testify about the so-called "poisoned well” strategy; the team's attorneys said Ceis had been prevented from commenting on the strategy during a deposition earlier this year and shouldn't be allowed to testify about it now.

Ceis was expected to be called today as one of the last witnesses before attorneys wrap up the six-day trial with their closing arguments. The trial has been recessed since Friday. U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman is not expected to rule today on the central question in the case: whether the Sonics must play out the last two years of the team's lease with the city-controlled KeyArena.

The team's owners want to relocate and start play in Oklahoma City when the next season begins. The city, which filed suit last fall, wants the judge to order "specific performance” of the lease; that is, the city wants the team to play all of its home games in KeyArena through the 2009-2010 season, as called for under the lease.

At press time, Pechman had not issued a written ruling on whether Ceis could testify about his knowledge of the "poisoned well” plan, which was the focus of testimony late last week.

The owners' attorneys have alleged that the city sued the Sonics to keep the team here for two more years as part of a plan to make the owners suffer heavy financial losses and sell the team to a local group of investors.

That allegation is part of the owners' defense in this case since they claim the city had "unclean hands” when it filed the suit and shouldn't prevail because it had ulterior motives.

The city wants to use Ceis to rebut the claim since Ceis is expected to testify that the city wasn't involved with the local businessmen discussing a plan that had, as part of its title, "a poisoned well.”

"The city would be substantially prejudiced if it were not permitted to respond to these allegations, and (the owners have) no grounds to claim ambush,” the city's attorneys argued in their brief filed Wednesday. Though Ceis was initially advised not to discuss the plan — since it did involve an attorney with the firm representing the city in this case — he was later allowed to in his deposition and answered several questions about it, the city's attorneys argued Wednesday.

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