Sacramento Kings/AECOM

The five massive entry doors might be opened for concerts, or before and after Kings games. Event attendees would actually enter through normal-sized doors at ground level.

Judge in Kings lawsuit disqualified because he signed a petition to force a vote on planned arena

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014 - 12:00 am
Last Modified: Wednesday, Apr. 16, 2014 - 7:16 pm

It seems everybody has an opinion on the proposed $258 million public subsidy for the new Sacramento Kings arena, including the judge originally assigned to the lawsuit over the subsidy ballot initiative.

In an odd wrinkle to a story that’s already filled with dramatic twists, Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny was disqualified Tuesday from hearing the lawsuit filed by arena subsidy opponents. The reason: Kenny had signed a petition supporting their initiative.

Lawyers for the city demanded Kenny’s disqualification before a preliminary hearing in the case was about to begin. The rules allow each side one challenge apiece, and the judge had no choice but to step aside in the face of the city’s opposition.

Kenny announced his disqualification from the bench without explanation. Attorney James Sanchez later said the judge had signed one of the petitions demanding a public vote on the subsidy issue.

The case was quickly reassigned to Judge Timothy Frawley. At a preliminary hearing a couple of hours later, Frawley set a Feb. 21 hearing date at which he’s expected to rule on the lawsuit, in which subsidy opponents are demanding a public vote on the issue. He also ruled that The4000, the political action committee chaired by Mayor Kevin Johnson and bankrolled by the Kings, can intervene in the lawsuit.

The taxpayers’ groups had filed court papers opposing The4000’s intervention, but the groups’ lawyer Bradley Hertz decided not to fight the issue in court. Hertz said afterward that Frawley made it clear, in a closed-door meeting with the lawyers, that he would let the Kings’ PAC jump into the case.

Sacramento Taxpayers Opposed to Pork and Voters for a Fair Arena Deal sued the city last week after the city clerk rejected their petitions calling for a vote by the public on sports subsidies. The groups gathered more than enough signatures to put the issue on the June ballot, but the clerk said the petitions were legally defective because of wording problems.

The4000 is intervening because any delay in arena construction would “harm the legal and property rights of the Kings,” according to a court filing. The Kings donated $47,000 to the PAC in the last three months of 2013, according to campaign disclosures.

The Kings paid $36 million to buy the arena site at Downtown Plaza and have spent millions more in predevelopment costs, a team official said in a court filing. The team would contribute $189 million to arena construction, while the city’s subsidy is pegged at $258 million. The arena is supposed to open in 2016; the NBA has given the Kings’ owners until 2017 to finish the project or risk losing the team to another city.

In pushing to be allowed into the lawsuit, The4000 raised questions about the taxpayers group’s funding efforts – notably the secret $100,000 donation from the man who tried to buy the Kings last year and move them to Seattle. The taxpayers groups say they weren’t aware the big donation came from Seattle.

But the Kings PAC’s lawyer, Sean Welch, said the group isn’t trying to bring additional issues such as the Chris Hansen donation into the courtroom. The4000’s involvement will “sharpen the presentation of the issues,” he told reporters.

Call The Bee’s Dale Kasler, (916) 321-1066. Follow him on Twitter @dakasler.

Read more articles by Dale Kasler

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