SEATTLE (MCT) - Howard Schultz admits his lawsuit to reclaim the Sonics is a potential legal quagmire, which is why he wants the case against Clay Bennett divided into two parts _ a liability phase and a remedy phase.
Schultz's Seattle-based attorney Richard Yarmuth filed a motion Thursday afternoon in U.S. District Court in Seattle asking Judge Marsha Pechman to “bifurcate,” or divide, the case. Splitting it would allow her to render a decision on Schultz's claims that he was duped into selling the team before hearing arguments on how she would force the team to return from Oklahoma City.
Sonics representatives were unavailable for comment.
Schultz, the Starbucks chief executive, seeks to rescind the $350 million sale in 2006 of the Sonics and Storm from his Basketball Club of Seattle to Bennett's Professional Basketball Club on charges of fraudulent inducement, negligent misrepresentation and breach of contract.
In court documents, Yarmuth said Schultz's claims are legally straightforward, but the remedies are much more complicated.
Schultz is asking the court to take the team away from Bennett, place it in a constructive trust and sell to an “honest buyer who desires to keep the team in Seattle.”
His solution is complex, challenging and costly because Bennett's team will play the 2008-09 season in Oklahoma City after agreeing to pay the city of Seattle at least $45 million to break the final two years of a KeyArena lease.
Schultz's proposed remedy is further complicated because the NBA filed a motion July 11 seeking intervention in his lawsuit.
The NBA believes Schultz's solution violates league bylaws that control the process of ownership changes. Yarmuth is expected to file a reply to the league's motion next week.
“The liability and remedy aspects of this case pose wholly separate issues and involve wholly separate evidence,” Yarmuth wrote in the motion. “The need to litigate the remedy aspect of the case both for discovery and for trial depends entirely on this court's findings on liability.”
Yarmuth wants the two trials separated by several months to allow prospective buyers a chance to be identified.