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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Bennett’s Lawyers Taunt City’s Expert Witness

posted by on June 17 at 17:35 PM

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.

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Fuck. Now it's all up to Alexie.

Posted by Jerod | June 17, 2008 5:42 PM

To: Clay Bennet lawyers
From: Seattle voters
Re: your lawsuit

Pleasee put into evidence the fact that 78% of Seattle voters said no way to any subsidies unless the team guarantees a commercal rate of return. In other words, there is a law on the books in Seattle that basically rejects the whole premise of the City's case that there is value, intangible or not, in having a team here.

You can find the power of the people like in article one of the city charter, too. It's right there.

We the people of Seattle, already said there's no "goodwill value" from this team. End of court case.


Posted by PC | June 17, 2008 6:42 PM

Can we please keep the Storm? Sue Bird is yummy!

Posted by elswinger | June 17, 2008 6:58 PM

Andrew Zimbalist is one of my heroes. It sucks that's lousy on the stand. Too bad none of the principals in this case can read.

Posted by Fnarf | June 17, 2008 7:38 PM

@3, the Storm have already been sold to a local group and will be staying.

I would have no problem paying for a new stadium if the public were to have equity in the team. IIRC, the Sonics were bought for about $300 Million, and it sounds like they want about another $100 Million in stadium to stay. Fine, give the city 30% interest in the profits and appreciation of the team.

Posted by John | June 17, 2008 11:28 PM


I'd like to apologize for all those rubber red playground balls that smacked your uncoordinated body when your were in school. You clearly don't understand sports or sports fans.

The happiness that the city of Boston is experiencing tonight and these past few months cannot be easily measured, but it changes lives (mostly in positive ways). I can't explain it to you and it saddens me.

Posted by cw | June 18, 2008 12:16 AM

I think it will be kind of awesome to have a WNBA team but not an NBA team.

Posted by poppy | June 18, 2008 9:17 AM

PC- Seattle voters didn't say the Sonics had no value. They just said they're sick of giving welfare to billionaire sports franchise owners. Sonics definitely have value, albeit not to everyone. But if 100% unanimity is required for something to have value, we'd have nothing.

I think the judge basically tossed out the expert's testimony once she confirmed that he had previously assigned a value to the 'intangibles' - especially for the low low price of $7.5M. Also starring as a piss-poor Seattle witness was Mayor McCheese Nickels, when he finally agreed the lease was a bad deal for the Sonics, and then brilliantly added something to the effect of "but it's not good for Seattle either."

Posted by him | June 18, 2008 10:42 AM

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