Photo by Kevin P. Casey
If they know him at all, most Seattleites know Brad Keller as the uncannily effective lawyer who represented Clay Bennett and his People's Basketball Club (PBC, owners of the franchise formerly known as the Seattle SuperSonics) in their lawsuit with the city of Seattle. He's the guy who embarrassed witnesses and opposing counsel alike, helping his clients reach a settlement that achieved their goal of moving the team to Oklahoma City. In so doing, he provoked the ire of many Sonics fans, to the extent that angry e-mails and phone calls to his home and office led him to hire armed security for both locations.
What most people probably don't know is that Keller was a 20-year Sonics season-ticket holder who, in the 1990s, twice donated to the re-election campaigns of the opposing counsel in the Sonics case, then-Senator Slade Gorton. Keller speaks freely of his admiration for Gorton's work in public office, and professes "enormous loyalty to this city. I took no delight in showing that these highly regarded people had done things that were troublesome."
His professed joylessness notwithstanding, Keller represented the PBC with humor and skill that won him a grudging respect. (After attending the trial, Weekly blog contributor and Save Our Sonics fellow traveler Jason Reid used several expletives to describe Keller's courtroom performance before declaring flatly "I'd hire him.") Keller concluded his case with perhaps the trial's most memorable exhibit, a diagram of Slade Gorton's brain, split hemispherically between "City Litigation Lawyers" and "Griffin Group's Lawyers." The graphic elicited laughter from Judge Marsha Pechman and pithily summarized Keller's argument that Gorton and the city were guilty of double-dealing—professing good faith in their negotiations with the team while working behind the scenes to weaken its financial standing and arrange a sale to local owners.
But Keller seems most fond of his cross-examination of Mayor Greg Nickels, in which he exposed the contradictions between Nickels' deposition and courtroom testimony and made the mayor look like a boastful kid unaware that his Easter-egg hunt had been moved to a minefield, the second coming of Augustus Gloop. "I thoroughly enjoyed it," says Keller. "I felt that Nickels was using this lawsuit and this issue as a bit of a political pulpit."
Keller—who has represented other unpopular clients such as Big Tobacco, a manufacturer of allegedly defective medical devices, and, on a pro-bono basis, an accused child molester—thinks Nickels' background in politics left him ill-prepared for the witness stand. "He's used to dealing with press conferences, where he's gonna stay on message and give one or two answers, even if they're not responsive to the question. You can't do that in the courtroom."—Damon Agnos