SuperSonics ask for mediation, March trial date in KeyArena suit
The Seattle SuperSonics are asking a federal judge to order a quick start to mediation, as well as a March trial date, in the team's legal fight with the city over its future in KeyArena.
In a status report filed by both sides with U.S. District Court Judge Marsha Pechman this week, the city agreed that mediation should start as soon as possible — but only if the Sonics' ownership group, the Professional Basketball Club, is prepared to discuss keeping the team here instead of following through on plans to move it to Oklahoma City.
The Sonics thus far have shown no such willingness.
"The court has the right to order the parties to mediate," Paul Lawrence, a lawyer for the city, said Thursday. "But the goal here is to keep the Sonics in Seattle. We don't want to mediate unless that's an option."
The city also took issue with the Sonics' request for a March 24 trial date, saying there's no way to prepare that quickly, and instead proposed Oct. 27. Both sides agreed the issues should be heard by a judge, rather than a jury.
The city is suing to keep the Sonics at KeyArena — the NBA's smallest venue — through the end of its lease in September 2010. Team owner Clay Bennett, having failed to win support for a new arena in the Legislature last year, is seeking to buy out the remainder of the lease and move the Sonics to Oklahoma City. The league is expected to rule on the team's relocation request this spring.
Mediation — negotiations overseen by another judge, retired judge or other qualified mediator — is typical in cases where an early settlement could save the cost of preparing for and going to trial. Sonics attorney Paul Taylor said today he could not discuss what the team might hope to gain in mediation, or whether it would be willing to talk about staying in Seattle.
In the status report, the Sonics argued that the earlier trial date was crucial, and that the lawsuit is basically a landlord-tenant dispute that doesn't need 10 months of preparation.
"Wherever the Sonics are playing, considerable planning and lead time are required to prepare for the 2008-2009 season, and myriad details must be worked out regarding offices, ticket sales, marketing, sponsorships, player contracts, coaches, media contracts, trademark issues, etc.," the team's lawyers wrote. "All of these and other matters are in limbo until the case is resolved."
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