Arthur Harrigan, the Seattle attorney who, with little fanfare or thanks, used his legal prowess to save the Seattle Mariners and Seahawks, has retired from the firm he founded in 1986.
But Harrigan, now 79, shouldn’t be permitted to ride off into the sunset without belated acknowledgment by the community whose professional teams remain here because of him, despite credit having been legitimately shared with several others.
In essence, Harrigan’s legal victories over Jeff Smulyan and Ken Behring that prevented their moving the teams to other cities paved the way for finding local owners for their teams. In the case of the Mariners, that allowed the late Sen. Slade Gorton to emerge as a hero for finding local ownership in Nintendo and owner Hiroshi Yamauchi.
Harrigan is having trouble finding the sunset as he remains involved as a funder, organizer, and chairman of an energy project designed to help save the planet.
The legal battles with the owners of two of Seattle’s professional sports teams came about because they were tenants of the Kingdome, having leases with King County, which was a longtime client of Harrigan’s law firm. So it fell to him to keep the teams from moving.
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 that both sides agreed to have decided 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 over the fate of the Mariners, the outcome got no media attention.
So it was amusing to both Harrigan and me that after I first wrote a column about seven years ago on his success in keeping the two teams, he told me his staff, in reading the column, asked, “How come no one knew of this back in 1992?”
Harrigan's maneuvering over the meaning of wording in Smulyan's contract regarding an attendance clause accepted by the Andersen firm was key to the final outcome,
So Smulyan was required to give a four-month opportunity for a local buyer to be found. And of likely 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 to lead 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, Nintendo's owner would have opted to pick up the cost of saving the Mariners for Seattle.
More visible was the effort to save the Seahawks since the battle with Ken Behring included a decision by the State Supreme Court.
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 the seismic security of the Dome as he announced that he was moving the team to Los Angeles.
Harrigan recalled the meeting at which he, King County Executive Gary Locke, and his assistant and chief civil deputy Dick Holmquist met with Behring and his attorney, Ron Olson, who Harrigan noted was also Warren Buffet's attorney.
He said 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.
“Holmquist and I were trying not to laugh," he said.
"We were poised to file a temporary restraining order the moment the meeting ended, Harrigan said. “In the meantime, the trucks had already begun the moving process.”
"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."
In the same timeframe, the NFL owners were holding their annual meeting in Boca Raton and wanted to hear what both sides had to say," Harrigan said. "I brought along 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."
The legal maneuvering all came to an end when it was announced that Paul Allen had purchased the Seahawks.
Now that the man responsible for this little-known piece of Seattle sports history has retired, there needs to be some recognition of what he accomplished.
There’s also an interesting piece of far-reaching legal history for Harrigan from when he was a young attorney in 1975 and spent a year as senior counsel to the Church Committee, the original Senate Intelligence Committee.
Chaired by Idaho Sen. Frank Church, the U.S. Select Committee on Intelligence was looking into all federal intelligence activities, including IRS activity.
Harrigan discovered that other intelligence agencies were obtaining tax returns from the IRS and using the information for their own purposes. In one instance, the goal was to prompt an IRS audit of a Minnesota citizen to take place during the 1968 Democratic Convention so that the individual could not attend.
Harrigan determined the IRS wasn’t initiating its own audits of individuals but was responding to requests from other federal for the returns of individuals whose activities the agency was concerned about.
He said when he appeared before the full committee, Goldwater, Church, Mondale, and others, to tell them what he had learned, Mondale was outraged that one of his constituents was among those abused by the process.
“Mondale called a full-day committee hearing,” Harrigan remembered. “In the meantime, I had already told the IRS Commissioner what we had learned, and before the Senate hearing, he had already adopted new regulations to ensure nothing like that could ever happen, installing audit rights against any agency that has sought tax information from the IRS. We had the hearing. The Commissioner reported that he had already stopped this in its tracks. Frontpage NY Times the next day.”
As to the climate-aiding energy project that is still on Harrigan’s business plate, where it has been since he first got involved a dozen years ago, it's called Advanced Rail Energy Storage (ARES),
It’s basically “highly efficient’ electric rail cars running uphill and generating energy, converting electric power to mechanical potential energy, which is delivered when the cars are deployed downhill.
Harrigan and prominent Bellevue business leader Spike Anderson provided much of the initial and continuing funding for this system which CEO Howard Trott, another Seattleite, has in recent years led. The ARES system has already attracted attention from utilities around the country.
It’s been seven years since I did a column on the project, headlined “Seattle investor friends focus on ‘The Holy Grail of Energy’ train project,” indicating their long-term commitment to the time and cost of bringing the project to final deployment.