Sonics owner: It’s all about the net

The fate of the Seattle SuperSonics will not be decided on the basketball court but in the courtroom as an unusual trial is underway to determine where the team will play next season.

National Basketball Association owners earlier this year approved Sonics’ owner Clay Bennett’s plan to move the team to his native Oklahoma City. But the team has two years left on its lease at Key Arena in Seattle. So, in City of Seattle v. Professional Basketball Club LLC, the city is asking a federal judge to order the team to honor the last two years of its lease.

Yesterday, Bennett took the stand for the second day of a six-day trial, according to Yahoo! Sports. He testified that keeping the Sonics in Seattle would cost $60 million while moving to Oklahoma City would yield a $17 million profit.

Bennett also said he was a “man possessed” to keep the Sonics in Seattle, according to the story. But e-mails between Bennett and co-owners soon after he bought the team in 2006 show he was already thinking about relocation, the story notes.

What this all adds up to is a Sonics fan’s worst nightmare, a beloved team potentially leaving in broad daylight. (Leaving in the middle of the night is a whole other issue, as Baltimore Colts fans will tell you.) Citizen groups have formed to stop the move, but they could just be delaying the inevitable; after all, Bennett legally owns the team and can do what he pleases.

It’s up to Judge Marsha J. Pechman to play referee in what is far from a slam-dunk case.

DANNY JACOBS, Legal Affairs Writer

Supreme Court gets down to work

The Supreme Court issued four employment-related opinions this morning, with two favoring workers and two favoring employers:

  • In MetLife v. Glenn (PDF), the court agreed that when the same entity administers and funds an ERISA benefits plan (as MetLife did here), it has a financial incentive to deny disability claims – a conflict of interest that should be weighed in favor of employees who challenge a denial of benefits.
  • The court pre-empted California’s first-in-the-nation ban on employers’ use of state money to influence employees’ views of unions, in Chamber of Commerce v. Brown (PDF).
  • Reversing an appeals court, it upheld Kentucky’s retirement system, which denies disability benefits to workers who are eligible to retire when they become disabled. (They receive their regular retirement benefits, but no disability benefits.) The case is Kentucky Retirement Systems v. EEOC (PDF).

The court also decided one criminal case, Indiana v. Edwards (PDF), rejecting an argument that a defendant who is deemed competent to stand trial has the constitutional right to represent himself.

Hat tip to our sister blog, DC Dicta.

BARBARA GRZINCIC, Managing Editor/Law