Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Dispatches from the Tenth Circle - The Sonic's Fan Version

There are parts of the saga of the Sonics' fan that sometimes remind me of something I might have read in The Onion's book, Dispatches from the Tenth Circle. It appeared, at first, that the only people interested in keeping the Sonics in Seattle were the fans, and in the end that is exactly the case.

It has been my contention for the past few years that there are three parties involved, the NBA not being one of them. David Stern acts on behalf of the owner, or potential owner if you are Steve Ballmer or Clay Bennett. So, we really do have the owner of the franchise, the politicos/NGO's (westside Democrats & eastside Repubicans), and absolutely lastly, the fans. All three of those perspectives are required for any major profession sports team to exist in Seattle. This may be the case in other cities, only the names are changed to protect the rich, and deflect criticism away from politicians.

From the word Go, the city has planned on the Sonics leaving, and the owners (any of them) were going to get more revenue no matter where the team was eventually located. When Howard Schultz was owner of the Sonics, and Brian Robinson was acting the part of journalist, he made every effort to help efforts to keep the franchise going long-term in Seattle. That effort didn't change when Clay Bennett purchased the Sonics (though not with the same sense that the owner was holding up his end of the stick.
When Clay Bennett announced that he was giving up and was going to move the team that put the city and Bennett on a collision course, and flipped Brian Robinson from journalist to advocate, and started Save Our Sonics with Steve Pyeatt.

At about that point season ticket holders, that were sold tickets under the pretense that they could purchase season tickets in 2008 and 2009, started to wonder if they had any recourse. They were sold something with the possibility of a benefit in the future while at the same time the team owner was actively trying the make sure those conditions would not be possible. Had they known at the time of purchase that Clay Bennett was begging the league to relocate in time for that same 2007 - 2008 season would those people have purchased their tickets?
In a few cases yes, in many cases no, in either case the consumers in Washington State have the right to know.
Asking Brian Robinson if he knows a lawyer they could hire isn't much of a conspiracy.

And yet, Clay Bennett's lawyer, Sideshow Bob Keller has demanded every email he has that also include the city and more. This does not have much to do with fraud, I honestly think this has everything to do with the fans, including Brian Robinson, costing Bennett at least 20 million dollars, and possibly 30 million more in 5 years.

All the while, quite a few of us Sonics fans have carried on conversations on message boards, newsgroups, listserves, some stretching back nearly 10 years. At various times groups I have had some contact with, public and private, sorted themselves out. A few of us took to writing about the Sonics on a few blogs, and there was an inside/outside the "circle" mostly expessed in a humorist way. As Brian gained connections with reporters, and people working in government and the last two ownership groups, and publicly lamented that they were not always open with him, my guess is that fodder will result in a lot of meaningless paper dumped in Keller's lap.

For me, a paranoid guy that just wanted to write, I opted out of anything that could be described, even jokingly, as an inner circle, and made a few people very unhappy with me. Well, the choices we make are not always clear to the others around us at the time. There wasn't much upside, and the downside looked something a bit worse than what Brian is dealing with right now.
Rich guys have lawyers that have nothing better to do, and they have to bill hours.
No thanks.
As for the idea of circles, what the center of some circles look like are not as positive for the Seattle community as Brian Robinson.

Sometime in the late 20th century the rings of Hell were redefined, and expanded after a new 10th Circle, Corpadverticus, was discovered (see chart, above).
There, near the lower right of the graph, is a red characiture that may or may not be Brad Keller, also known as "Sideshow" Brad by me.

And so, in today's Seattle PI, the venn diagram of all these circles, owners, politicos, and fans, has shown a new color of light: green for the fans.
The fans are not going to run for re-election, they do not have stock holders, and they are not inventing a new scenario (Washington State has a fraud law).
Keller is racking up billing hours on Brian Robinson's back before the music stops, the ride is over, and Bennett pulls the plug.

Save Our Sonics cites subpoena 'attack'
Team owners try to link group with ticket holders' suit


The Sonics may be gone, but the court fight hasn't quite ended between Clay Bennett's ownership group and some Seattle sports fans.

A class-action suit filed by three former Sonics season ticket holders has escalated into a growing war of words and court filings, the latest surrounding Save Our Sonics co-founder Brian Robinson and what he must turn over to the Professional Basketball Club attorneys in discovery for a scheduled March 2 trial.

PBC lawyers served a subpoena on Robinson and the Save Our Sonics organization on Aug. 25 seeking e-mails and records regarding the group's interaction with city of Seattle officials, NBA representatives, the fans filing the class-action suit and numerous other matters.

Robinson's attorney, Paul Schneiderman, sought to limit the scope of the initial inquiry and the PBC responded by filing a motion to force compliance with the legal action.

Robinson now is agreeing to turn over some of what has been requested, but on a delayed basis.

The battle took a step up in volume Monday when Schneiderman filed a sharply worded response to U.S. District Judge Richard Jones accusing the PBC of launching an unnecessary attack on the Save Our Sonics group for its alleged role in bringing about the class-action suit against Bennett.

"The PBC, a combined billionaire group of Oklahoma-based NBA owners, have shockingly taken the unprecedented steps of attacking an all-volunteer NBA fan group in United States federal court," Schneiderman wrote.

The motion states that Bennett's attorneys are painting Robinson and his fan group as part of a "broader conspiracy" intended to bleed the PBC.

"The 'bleeding' allegations are Oliver Stone-like, conspiratorial in nature, and grossly distort and mischaracterize the actual efforts of Brian Robinson and SOS&S," the motion stated.

SOS&S refers to Save Our Sonics and Storm, the original name of the nonprofit corporation formed by Robinson in July 2006.

Part of Schneiderman's argument against the PBC's motion to compel the subpoena is based on the fact the PBC originally subpoenaed the Save Our Sonics group, but didn't subpoena the actual SOS&S affiliation.

PBC attorney Brad Keller said Robinson's attorney physically filed the original complaint against Bennett's ownership group.

"Robinson clearly played a role in orchestrating the lawsuit," Keller said. "We are just trying to get to the bottom of what his role was. Robinson shouldn't be resisting the subpoena if he has nothing to hide."

The entire case revolves around the three fans' attempts to hold Bennett's ownership group to what they perceived as a promise to give Sonics season ticket holders a three-year price guarantee and priority seating through the remainder of the former KeyArena lease.

Now that Bennett has moved the club to Oklahoma City, the suit seeks to force the PBC to guarantee the 1,387 Sonics season ticket holders from last year the right to buy similar seats at the Ford Center and also require the PBC to pay for travel accommodations that would now be necessary to attend the 41 home games in Oklahoma for the next two seasons.

PBC lawyers filed a motion last week asking the judge for summary judgment on the contract damages portion of the suit.

The PBC is attempting to show Robinson played a role in bringing about the fans' suit and thus they have a right to discovery concerning his group's actions.

In a declaration accompanying Monday's motion, Robinson acknowledged that he "referred several people to an attorney" in regards to a class-action fans suit, but denied any active role.

"The plaintiffs in the class action case have clearly made a decision to participate in this case without the active participation of SOS&S," Robinson wrote.

Robinson's attorney said the Oklahoma City owners are attempting to create a rift by doing everything possible to "alienate and inflict injury" on Seattle's NBA fan base in hopes of derailing the Save Our Sonics efforts to lobby the Washington Legislature for further KeyArena funding.

If the Legislature doesn't approve a $75 million tax stream to help rebuild KeyArena by Dec. 31, 2009, Bennett won't have to pay the city the final $30 million of the settlement package.

Robinson said that although the franchise has moved to Oklahoma, his goal is to "re-establish Seattle" as an NBA city and he intends to continue working toward a KeyArena funding solution.
As reported by Greg Johns of the Seattle PI.

My fuzzy memory is that the idea was floated on SonicsCentral.com, (you could put 100 other people in the "conspiracy" to not get screwed) those season ticket holders, I call fans, asked Brian if he knew a lawyer, and it looks like they found one.


dead ball foul said...

Brian should've heeded my joking advice when I suggested he torch the archives. Looking through some of the threads from around the first of last October, I was surprised at how often Brian used the word "we" when discussing the suit. It gave me the impression Brian was quite involved, including making the decision to file on Media Day.

Mr Baker said...

that part isn't too much of an issue. Brian said a few times that the mayor's office would not give him any information. As long as that is the case the fan's will not experience "dirty hands" and conspiracy. If "they" do not know anything, no problem.

dead ball foul said...

For starters I should be clear that I am not a plaintiff, nor at this time am I intending to be. Additionally we are not making this up or pushing something meritless. You’ll have to see how it goes but it is a specific, and based on our research extremely legitimate complaint. Have any of you met with an attorney on this matter? I’ve met with 6, including the state attorney general. When we were contacted by these season ticket holders we felt that we were able to give them well thought out advice with a lot of research behind it. That is how we try to approach everything.

We have a lot of advisors on this matter. From the league, to members of other ownership groups, media members, politicians, big local companies, etc. all try to point to where the fans should be. This board is a great resource for information and insight. Right now I am not hearing from a single person “in the know” that we are doing a bad thing. Unfortunately someone needs to add to the downside for ownership by increasing the cost of leaving, if that doesn’t happen then it is just too quick and easy a path for them to relocate and they won’t return to the table. It does not make sense for the mayor or the governor to drive that bus if they have to get involved in negotiations with Bennett or the league some day. We can do that because a year from now nobody will know my name and we’ll be done.


At the very least it's clear Brian wasn't completely forthright when he stated he merely "referred several people to an attorney". As far as a deeper conspiracy... i'm pretty sure the argument against the motion to compel will fall flat and the PBC will be allowed to dig.

Mr Baker said...

I think they conceded the point, as noted in the news report. I also think that what Brian meant when he posted his thread today at Sonicscentral by doing a "Brad Keller impersonation" was to file papers in response to the other side whose only function is to inflate the rhetoric (check), and make noise in the newspaper (and double check).

Acting as a resorce, and stating what they are doing in a public forum, expresses their intent in public.
Bennett contended in a prior case that somebody else attempted to bleed him dry, but he would not see, so the result was not possible.
I am not sure how they can claim a conspiracy, if there was one, to be harmful (if they can not be harmed in this way).
This my be Brian's intent, but the people that contacted would have to be shown to hold the same motive. Brian isn't a party, he is a whitness (like David Stern in the city's case).