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.