Slog News & Arts

Line Out

Music & Nightlife

« I, Anonymous: Gay Pride Editio... | I Hope They Don't Fuck This On... »

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Blame Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis

posted by on July 1 at 14:03 PM

Mayor Greg Nickels’s administration thrives on cutesy political subterfuges orchestrated by Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis. It’s how they roll.

When tomorrow’s big Sonics decision comes down—arguably an administration-defining moment for Team Nickels—U.S. District Court Judge Marsha Pechman may find that Ceis’s penchant for political chicanery rolled the city right out of bounds.

The main argument that Sonics CEO Clay Bennett’s lawyers made in their case to move the Super Sonics to Oklahoma City was this: The city’s lawsuit to make Bennett keep the team in Seattle was a smaller ploy in a bigger strategy to force the Sonics to sell the team back to a local ownership group led by real estate broker and civic busybody Matt Griffin and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer

According to this theory, schemers in Griffin and Ballmer’s corner, including former Sonic and Sonics CEO Wally Walker and former Senator Slade Gorton, believed that—faced with the prospect of playing in money-losing KeyArena for two more seasons—Bennett would sell.

The problem, as Bennett’s lawyers pointed out repeatedly (with stacks of evidence like a Power Point presentation called “The Poisoned Well” that Gorton presented at Walker’s house on October 7, 2007) was this: Walker was the city’s Sonics consultant and Gorton was the city’s lead counsel dealing with the Sonics’s lease case. The city was the Sonics’s landlord. Undermining your own tenant is a no-no, and could sully the city’s case.

In closing arguments last week, Bennett’s lead attorney, Brad Keller, implicated the city in the plot by focusing on Ceis:

One thing that hasn’t been exercised that I would like to point out is what happened two days after that October 7th meeting. You will find it in Exhibit 601. It is not on my chart here, but it is Mr. Walker’s calendar. Two days later, Mr. Walker’s calendar reflects a meeting at K&L Gates and Ellis attended by himself, attorneys from the firm and Mr. Ceis. It says it right here in his calendar. So one thing you will have to decide is what is the likelihood that two days later after the finalization of the whole poison well power point presentation, after having spent two days before going through it with Mr. Ballmer, whether they weren’t doing the exact same thing two days later with the City’s Deputy Mayor sitting there in the office of K&L Gates with Mr. Gorton…

You have Mr. Ceis two days after the October 7 meeting with Walker, with Mr. Gorton and the other people from K&L Gates, right after the poisoned well is finalized.

Later that afternoon, I (and I think the second question is from Art Thiel from the PI) zoomed in on this Ceis tidbit during the city’s press conference:

Q: It seemed to me like [Sonics lawyer Brad] Keller dropped a new bit of evidence in his closing, which found Deputy Mayor Ceis at a meeting at K&L Gates, two days after the “Poisoned Well’” meeting. So what were you there for? What strategy were you talking about there?

Ceis: That is not a new piece of evidence. That was in my deposition that is part of the court record, and it was clear that on October 9 we were meeting to discuss the preparation of the presentation to the NBA of a renovated KeyArena plan. That’s the whole purpose of that discussion that day.

Q: Nothing about this poisoned well plan? No discussion of this idea that, “We drag ‘em in to court and make it painful enough, we can make ‘em sell.’?”

Ceis: Again, in my deposition, which is part of the record for the court, I had no knowledge at any time up until my deposition of the existence of that Power Point.

Read Ceis’s deposition yourself. Ceis says he didn’t know about the Griffin group until November 2007. But when asked whether or not he knew about a potential new buyer in the fall of ‘07, Ceis says: “There were theoretical discussions about what-ifs.”

He never gets pinned down. I guess we’ll see tomorrow what the judge thinks about Ceis’s “theoretical discussions.”

During his closing argument, Keller asked her to think about just that:

The right side of his brain is working for the Griffin group’s lawyers, the left side is working for the city’s lawyers. We are supposed to think the left side of the brain isn’t talking to the right, and vice versa.

You are being asked to accept that the city’s attorney wasn’t telling his client what he was cooking up when the two had the exact same objective, to keep the team here, and forcing the sale would have accomplished that objective for both. That is contrary to logic. That is contrary to common sense.

RSS icon Comments


This should be a matter of straight contract interpretation--Specific Performance is negotiated for in the lease.

"Unclean hands" might be an equitable defense where there's no contract at issue. But I think the Judge will have a very hard time letting Team OKC out on that basis.

Posted by NapoleonXIV | July 1, 2008 2:28 PM

It's been unclear to me through all this whether "undermining your tenant" is actually a crime, or if it's just unethical. If it's a crime, I should have filed suit against some landlords in my day.

If it's merely unethical, then it's tit-for-tat with Bennett's buying the team and lying about his plans to keep it in Seattle. That means Ceis' machinations aren't "chicanery", merely efficient. (And I have no use for basketball or the Sonics.)

Posted by Nat | July 1, 2008 2:31 PM

I don't think anything in a closing argument is evidence. Anyway, my guess is that such behind the scenes drama won't affect who the judge rules for but may affect the remedy, if any (which might mean the city loses even if it wins).

Posted by umvue | July 1, 2008 2:42 PM

agree with #1 here - it's about Specific Performance - though the Judge may well comment to this issue.

There will/should be significant pressure on Mr. Ceis to resign. I'd be surprised if it's not already underway - this has been par for the course for his nibs Mr Ceis, and time for it to stop

Posted by ho' know | July 1, 2008 3:28 PM

Wait -- PowerPoint? No wonder the team's leaving. Nothing good has ever come from a PowerPoint presentation. The Iraq War was started with PowerPoint.

Posted by Fnarf | July 1, 2008 3:28 PM

There won't be pressure on Ceis to resign unless the City loses big-time. Ceis has never smelled like a rose--and doesn't view it as part of his job description.

Posted by NapoleonXIV | July 1, 2008 3:47 PM

I forget - is this a jury trial or just decided by a judge?

If by a jury, the evidence presented to them may not match what we here on the outside "see" - and they may decided solely on that limited presentation.

If by a judge ... is said judge up for election soon?

Cause if they are and they rule for the Sonics, they're going to find out how we rule ...

Posted by Will in Seattle | July 1, 2008 4:19 PM

WIS: Bench trial in federal court. Thankfully, federal judges don't face election.

NapXIV: Many contracts call for specific performance (e.g., employment contracts, service contracts), but few are specifically enforced. It is generally a bad idea to hold someone into a soured contractual relationship if they can be made whole with money.

Posted by Bob | July 1, 2008 4:35 PM

Yeah, but it seems that "unclean hands" is the brunt of OKC's defense, against any sort of equitable remedy (which specific performance would normally be, if not spelled out as a contractual remedy).

Much as I'd like to see Ceis pulled apart on a rack, I doubt OKC's red herrings are going to sway the judge. But we'll know tomorrow....

Posted by NapoleonXIV | July 1, 2008 4:48 PM

1. Notice how Ceis doesn't answer the questions. I never saw that power point isin't the same as I never discussed the strategy in the power point.

2. Obviously the judge thinks unclean hands is a defense to the city trying to enforce its contract rights; why else did she hear all this testimony on unclean hands if she thinks it is not relevant?
to would have been totally irrelevant.

3. If City loses I think city has to pay attorneys fees.

How about asking city employees who were in on the poison the well plan to contribute?

Posted by PC | July 1, 2008 5:36 PM

Comments Closed

Comments are closed on this post.