Arena lawsuit: Sacramento officials will be deposed

The judge's order in the Sacramento arena lawsuit is in: Sacramento City Councilman Kevin McCarty and Sacramento Economic Development Director Jim Rhinehart will be deposed about undisclosed dealings between city officials and the new Kings ownership group to help it buy the team.

Last week, in the lawsuit targeting the arena deal orchestrated by Mayor Kevin Johnson, a former NBA star, Sacramento Superior Court Judge Eugene Balonon had issued a tentative order on the depositions. But he said he would deliberate a little longer on the case law before issuing a final ruling.

The judge's order issued Tuesday supports petitioners’ requests that they be allowed to depose McCarty and Rhinehart.

The plaintiffs are a group of citizens known as STOP (Sacramento Taxpayers Opposed to Pork) who are fighting the arena subsidy deal. According to the lawsuit filed by STOP, the city subsidy is actually $338 million — not the $258 million the city claims.

STOP has tried to get the details of the arena deal and purchase of the Sacramento Kings to be made public.

'Undiscoverable, privileged' information?

The attorney for the defendants insisted in court and in legal filings that the information the petitioners seek from McCarty and Rhinehart is “undiscoverable, privileged information.”

“The court disagrees,” wrote Judge Balanon. “Defendants have not met their burden in asserting this privilege as to Councilman McCarty.”

An order protecting Rhinehart from being deposed was also denied by the judge.

Deposition notices were sent to city officials in September. But according to the plaintiff's attorney, Patrick Soluri, the mayor and city officials have engaged in various avoidance tactics, including filing numerous objections to deposition notices, rolling demurrers, and refusing to comply with a court order directing them to reschedule a further hearing. Soluri said these were stall tactics designed solely to delay the inevitable discovery until after the city’s expected formal approval of the arena in April.

“Defendants request for a stay of all discovery pending a ruling on another demur is DENIED,” the judge wrote in Tuesday's ruling.

Following the hearing last Thursday, Sacramento Bee columnist Marcos Breton ridiculed the lawsuit.

“Did you hear about the 'secret deal' between the city of Sacramento and the Kings? It’s supposedly a backroom, off-the-books, under-the-radar, 'sweetener' that was cooked up secretly between city officials and Kings owners. It would secretly provide hidden subsidies from the city to the Kings for the purpose of secretly making the Kings owners financially whole for 'overpaying' to buy one of the worst franchises in the NBA.”

essay to buyToday Breton may be eating crow for lunch. He's openly championed the arena deal and mocked anyone opposed to it.

Councilman McCarty has consistently opposed the arena deal. He sent a letter to City Manager John Shirey and the news media last February, challenging the use of public money for an arena, questioning whether the city would get a return on its investment and asking who would be accountable if revenues don't meet expenses.

Ballot initiative on subsidy

Beyond the legal challenge to the city’s deal, there is also a ballot initiative petition to require a public vote on any public subsidy for a professional sports franchise.  The petition signatures are currently being counted.

However, it appears Mayor Johnson and the City Council will attempt to moot the result of that vote by pushing up their approvals of the arena prior to the June vote that would thereafter require voter approval.  Approval of the deal and related bond sales were previously scheduled for summer or fall 2014.

See recent CalWatchdog stories covering the Sacramento arena deal here, here, here  and here.

And go here for all of the CalWatchdog stories on the arena deal.

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