The judge in the downtown Sacramento arena lawsuit rejected a midtrial request Thursday by city representatives for an immediate ruling in their favor, saying he was not ready to rule.
Attorneys for the city made the request late on Day 8 of the trial, after plaintiffs had presented their final witness, concluding their portion of the trial.
City representative Dawn McIntosh argued that the plaintiffs had failed to support their contention that the city and the Kings secretly colluded to add city assets worth tens of millions of dollars to the 2014 deal to build a downtown arena.
“We don’t believe the plaintiffs have met their burden of proof,” McIntosh said. “If they haven’t met their burden, there is not a need for us to present our case.”
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McIntosh said she was making the request in hopes of ending the trial quickly so that the city could go to market to sell bonds to pay the Kings the amount it agreed to provide to help finance the arena, replacing Sleep Train Arena in Natomas.
But Judge Tim Frawley expressed displeasure at the suddenness of McIntosh’s oral request.
“Quite simply, I don’t feel well prepared to rule on the motion at this point,” Frawley said. “I’m going to defer my ruling.”
The decision sends the legal and political fight into its third and likely final week on Monday. The judge will issue the ruling, rather than impanel a jury.
The plaintiffs, three Sacramento residents who oppose the 2014 deal, contend the city committed fraud and wasted taxpayer dollars via a secret arrangement in which the city added value to the deal to help compensate the Kings ownership for overpaying for the team in 2013 during a bidding war to keep it from being moved to Seattle.
The city has agreed to invest $255 million in cash and land values toward the arena, which the Kings say will be the most technology advanced sports facility in the world.
The arena is under construction downtown and is scheduled to open in October 2016. The construction price is estimated at $507 million, according to earlier court testimony. The Kings are required to pay for cost overruns.
Two aspects of the complex deal have been under the spotlight: the city’s agreement to give the Kings operational rights to several thousand city-owned garage parking spots adjacent to or near the arena, and an agreement to let the Kings build six digital signboards on city parcels next to freeways.
The plaintiffs allege those entitlements are worth tens of millions of dollars to the Kings, and that the city purposely hid that fact. City officials contend it cost the city nothing to give the Kings the right to build billboards, and that the parking garages it gave away are such poor performers and in such a poor state of repair that they wouldn’t be worth anything if an arena isn’t built.
The plaintiffs’ final witness Thursday was an economist, Jon Haveman, principal at Marin Economic Consulting, who reviewed some city documents and concluded the city is giving away tens of millions of dollars worth of value, and it is his opinion that officials were being deceptive. The city’s attorneys in turn attacked his calculations during their cross-examination.
The plaintiffs’ attorneys say they believe they did lay the groundwork for ruling in their favor. Jeffrey Anderson and Patrick Soluri said they produced deal-related reports, memos, emails and texts that, when viewed together, show that the Kings asked for extra compensation and that they worked behind the scenes with city representatives to embed those “sweeteners” into the deal.
“Both sides are happy, (they) just left the public in the dark,” Soluri said.
Anderson and Soluri put more than a dozen witnesses on the stand in presenting their case, many of them city officials and Kings representatives who had participated in the negotiations to build the facility. Many of them contradicted the plaintiffs’ position, saying they did not secretly compensate for the team purchase price. Soluri and Anderson told the judge they felt many of those witnesses were being untruthful.
The city’s legal team said they will put several city parking officials and arena deal analysts on the stand next week .