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Art Harrigan played legal role that helped save Seattle Mariners, Seahawks

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The community thank you last week to former Sen. Slade Gorton for his instrumental role in saving major league baseball in Seattle was an appropriate reminder of his signal accomplishment for the community. But without detracting from Gorton's role, it may also be appropriate at some point to recognize the Seattle attorney whose legal victory set the stage for the search for a local owner.

That would seem particularly appropriate since the Seattle attorney, Arthur Harrigan Jr., had key legal roles in saving two of the Seattle professional sports franchises

Art Harrigan not only succeeded in forcing Mariners owner Jeff Smulyan to give business and community leaders four months to find a local buyer, but five years later he paved the way for a local sale of the Seattle Seahawks by preventing owner Ken Behring from moving the team to Los Angeles.

The legal confrontations with the owners of two of Seattle's professional sports teams came about because Harrigan's law firm, Calfo Harrigan Leyh & Eakes, long represented King County on an array of issues. And both owners came into conflict with the county because they sought to abandon the county-owned Kingdome and their leases there.

The venue for resolving the future of the Seattle Mariners franchise was what amounted to an arbitration hearing before Arthur Andersen, the national accounting firm agreed to by both sides to decide some key issues relating to the lease.

Since it wasn't a court process, which would have gotten large visibility for the battle between attorneys, Harrigan's maneuvering over the meaning of wording in Smulyan's contract regarding an attendance clause that was key to the final outcome was little noted, thus little remembered.

Harrigan's argued interpretation of the lease-requirement wording was accepted by the Andersen firm, so Smulyan was required to give an opportunity for a local buyer to be sought.

Of perhaps equal importance, Harrigan successfully argued that there should be a local value lower than the open-market value. The accounting firm agreed and set a "stay-in-Seattle" valuation at $100 million, rather than the national open-market value of $135 million that it had determined.

That created the opportunity for Gorton and others leading the effort to keep the team in Seattle to find a local buyer for $100 million, rather than $135 million, within four months.

No one knows if, at $135 million, Ninetendo's owner would have opted to pick up the cost of saving the Mariners for Seattle.

With respect to the effort to block the Seahawks' move, King County hired Harrigan's firm to keep Behring from fulfilling his widely publicized intent in the winter of 1996 to leave Seattle and move the team to Los Angeles.

Behring made the argument, after some tiles had fallen from the Kingdome roof, that he had concerns about seismic security of the facility as he announced that he was moving the team to Los Angeles.

Harrigan recalled the February meeting at the Woodmark Hotel at Carillon point at which he, King County Executive Gary Locke, Gary Locke, his assistant, and chief civil deputy Dick Holmquist with Behring's attorney, Ron Olson (who he noted was also Warren Buffet's attorney).

"Olson read from a yellow pad, explaining that the team, fearing earthquakes might impact the Kingdome, had to be moved to the comparative safety of Southern California and the Rose Bowl," Harrigan said. "Holmqust and I were trying not to laugh."

"We were poised to file a temporary restraining order the moment the trucks began rolling up to the team's offices in Kirkland," Harrigan said.

"So when Behring and Olson left the room, I made the call and the restraining order was filed," he added. "Had that not happened, we would have had to go to California and ask a California judge to send them back."

Behring had quickly, after the restraining order, filed suit in Kittitas County, so as part of the legal process, Harrigan also had to get the state Supreme Court to toss out that suit.

A few weeks later he and Behring attorneys met with NFL owners who were considering whether to allow the team to move, in the event Behring could escape the Kingdome lease, and made their presentations.

"I had brought Jon Magnusson and two other renowned structural engineers with West Coast seismic design expertise who explained that the idea that Southern California was safer than the Kingdome in case of earthquake was ludicrous," Harrigan said.

The legal maneuvering all came to an end when it was announced that Paul Allen had purchased the Seahawks.

While Harrigan, 72, is ranked as Seattle's top commercial trial lawyer by Chambers & Partners, which ranks the world's best lawyers and law firms, his legal activities have ranged well beyond the courtroom.

He worked with Craig McCaw in his early Eagle River Investments days, helped create the wireless company Nextel, which became a $7 billion public company, is a member of the boards of several public companies. His is chair, and was a principal fund raiser, for an interesting new company that will generate energy by storing electricity on trains.

Harrigan, a Harvard graduate with his law degree from Columbia, served as Senior Counsel to the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, worked on an investigation of CIA intelligence activities related to Vietnam.

Most intriguingly, and perhaps as important as his later pro sports involvements in Seattle, he headed the committee's investigation of IRS intelligence operations, discovering that the agency was giving individuals' tax returns, under the claim of national security, to other intelligence agencies who were then misusing the information in sting operations.

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