City, Kings PAC, unions fight back against arena subsidy lawsuit

Invoking the Seattle investor who tried to buy the Sacramento Kings and then secretly funded the arena-subsidy petition movement, a coalition of arena supporters went to court with city officials Friday to fight back against the lawsuit demanding a public vote on the Kings arena project.

The city, a political action committee funded by the Kings and a community coalition led by organized labor all filed legal briefs in Sacramento Superior Court, arguing that an arena subsidy vote should be kept off the June ballot.

City officials argued that the anti-subsidy effort, led by two taxpayer groups, represented an unconstitutional attempt to change the city charter by stripping the City Council of its power over municipal finances. “Proponents have no right to demand an invalid measure be on the ballot,” city attorneys wrote. “The Sacramento City Council has full authority over the city’s fiscal affairs.”

That argument was supported in a separate court filing by the Sacramento-Sierra Building & Construction Trades Council; the Greater Sacramento Urban League; and a religious group called Sacramento Area Congregations Together.

The taxpayer groups, Sacramento Taxpayers Opposed to Pork and Voters for a Fair Arena Deal, turned in enough signatures to have the subsidy question placed on the June ballot. Their petitions were rejected by the city clerk, who ruled that their wording was legally flawed. The two groups sued the city Jan. 29, arguing that the mistakes were minor and demanding that her decision be overturned. The groups say the proposed $258 million public subsidy is far too costly.

A decision by Judge Timothy Frawley is expected next week. A court filing Friday by The4000, a PAC bankrolled by the Kings, suggests the court case could go beyond the wording of the petitions.

In a 32-page filing, lawyers for The4000 pointed to the controversy surrounding hedge fund manager Chris Hansen, who was revealed last summer to have secretly donated $100,000 to the anti-subsidy campaign via a Southern California group after failing in his effort to move the Kings to Seattle.

Leaders of STOP said they didn’t know Hansen donated to the petition effort. But as the lawyers for The4000 noted, they refused Hansen’s plea last fall to destroy the thousands of signatures gathered with his money.

The4000, which has formally intervened in the lawsuit, attempted to link Hansen’s secret contributions to the mistakes STOP and Fair Arena made with the wording on the petitions by arguing that in both instances, voters were deprived of information they should have had. For instance, a newspaper legal notice advertising the petitions left off the names of the leaders of the citizens groups circulating the petitions.

“This is not the typical case where initiative proponents make a single, harmless error somewhere along the way. ... This is one of the worst accumulations of errors and defects ever presented to a court.”

Brad Hertz, the lawyer for the citizens groups trying to force the arena issue onto the ballot, could not be reached for comment Friday.

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