No ruling yet in STOP arena lawsuit

The legal drama over the proposed public subsidy for the new Sacramento Kings arena will continue at least until this afternoon.

In a surprise move, a Sacramento Superior Court judge declined to issue a tentative ruling Thursday in a lawsuit filed by taxpayers trying to block the proposed $258 million subsidy. Instead, Judge Timothy Frawley ordered attorneys in the case to appear in court this afternoon for oral arguments. It wasn’t clear when Frawley will rule.

“Looks like we’ll have suspense for one more day,” said Brad Hertz, lawyer for the taxpayer groups, Sacramento Taxpayers Opposed to Pork and Voters for a Fair Arena Deal. The groups sued after city officials rejected their signed petitions demanding a public vote on sports facility subsidies.

The city said the petitions were legally flawed in their wording. In addition, city lawyers said the ballot initiative represented an unconstitutional attempt to amend the city charter because it would strip the City Council of some of its power over municipal finances. A political group funded by the Kings has jumped into the case on the city’s side.

In court papers, STOP and Fair Arena said the flaws in the petitions are too trivial to disenfranchise the citizens who signed them. As for the city’s claim about the charter, the taxpayer groups said “this is neither the time nor the place” for such arguments because the lawsuit is strictly about the wording of the petitions.

Also, STOP co-founder James Cathcart said arena proponents are trying to “tarnish” his group by linking it to Chris Hansen, the investor who tried to move the Kings to Seattle last year and funneled a secret $100,000 donation to the anti-subsidy movement through an Orange County political consultant.

STOP submitted thousands of voter signatures that were gathered with Hansen’s money, although Cathcart said his group was unaware for months that Hansen was the source of funding. In a court filing this week, Cathcart said STOP got custody of those signatures only after Brandon Powers, the political consultant, was pressured by the Orange County district attorney to surrender them. Powers denied that.

An investigative report by the state Fair Political Practices Commission says Cathcart met last June with Powers and a lawyer who represented Hansen and the Kings’ former owners, the Maloofs. During the meeting, the lawyer didn’t say whom he was representing and Cathcart “did not ask,” according to the report.

Three months later, the FPPC revealed Hansen as the secret donor and fined him for violating the state’s campaign finance laws.

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