City Bennett’s Lawyers Taunt City’s Expert Witness
posted by June 17 at 17:35 PMon
The story this afternoon was not Clay Bennett’s testimony, but rather the cross examination of the city’s sports economics expert.
Smith College sports economist (and Harvard PH.d) Andrew Zimbalist was brought in by the city to talk about high-falutin concepts like “consumer surplus” and “externalities” and “contingent valuation.”
The point of his testimony was to introduce the idea of intangible value—mainly that intangible value—like water cooler chatter—exists in cities with sports teams, but you cannot put a $ figure on it.
This is key to the city’s case because they want the judge to enforce their “specific performance” lease. (A specific performance contract is one that requires the parties to fulfill the obligations of the contract by explicitly disallowing one party to break the contract with economic compensation.)
Zimbalist’s testimony was intended to make it harder for the judge to accept the Team Bennett’s efforts to buy their way out of the lease.
However—and this is why Zimbalist is the story this afternoon rather than Bennett—the Sonics’ lawyers went after him.
My sense is that Sonics lawyer Paul Taylor’s TV-showy impeachment of Zimbalist was kinda bullshit, but it was an effective show.
Taylor disdainfully presented example after example showing how passages from Zimbalist’s report for the city were taken directly from a report he’d written for a case involving the Los Angeles Angels baseball team in 2005.
“Take a moment to read that,” Taylor badgered Zimbalist. “It’s identical isn’t it?” he repeated again and again.
Zimbalist wasn’t so hot at defending himself, limply saying he often uses “notes” that he’s already written on the subject when he’s writing new reports. “Notes” ? It was so vague, it almost sounded more incriminating.
The city’s main lawyer, Paul Lawrence, addressed the issue much better in a press conference moments after Zimbalist’s testimony ended. He explained that the duplicate passages were just boiler plate “definitions of economic terms” that Zimbalist uses from report to report. They were not from passages that were central to the findings of the study.
Indeed, while Taylor momentarily wowed the courtroom with his Perry Mason act, he eventually came across like a book-burning ruffian, who had no patience for basic academics, where, of course, it’s necessary to repeat terminology (without re-writing it every time.)
However, Taylor’s cross examination did raise one troubling question for the city’s case to keep the Sonics here. There was one big difference between Zimbalist’s report on Seattle and his repot on L.A.: While Zimbalist couldn’t put a number on the intangible value of the Sonics (which helps the city’s specific performance case) he could, and did, put a number on intangible value of the Angels.
And this point seemed to stick with Judge Pechman, who concluded the heated cross examination by asking Zimbalist to confirm that he put a number ($7.75 million, she said) on the L.A. case, but not in this case.
When Zimbalist tried to explain the difference, she cut him off: “You’ve answered my question,” she said.
Asked at the press conference if they would address the inconsistency—which struck me as kind of a bombshell—the city’s lawyers said they might come back to it in closing arguments.