Shelly Sterling attended to many details in her rush to sell the Clippers before the NBA would seize the team, but was unaware of the 11th-hour maneuver to push aside her husband and team co-owner, Donald, she told a Los Angeles court Thursday.
Sterling said it was only after the deal was nearly sealed her lawyers told her they had obtained doctors' reports on Donald's mental incapacity and she could use the reports to remove him from the family trust that controlled the team.
She said she acted lovingly when she urged Donald to be evaluated. Her main concern, she testified, was to assess her husband's deterioration.
Donald Sterling's lawyers said regardless of Shelly's motivations, the medical examinations appeared to be part of a cynical set-up by a bunch of "hired guns."
Shelly Sterling's second day on the witness stand in Los Angeles Superior Court produced other revelatory claims — that NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, despite his previous statements, once considered softening the fine and lifetime ban he had issued against her husband and Donald's termination of the family trust on June 9 had caused $500 million in business loans to come due.
Those claims drew swift challenges from the other side.
Shelly Sterling's lawyers rested their case Thursday, a session without the histrionics and name calling that erupted when Donald was in the courtroom. The day after calling his wife a "pig," the Clippers co-owner stayed away because he was not needed as a witness.
His lawyers moved to have Shelly Sterling's case thrown out, without her being validated as sole trustee of the Sterling Family Trust. Judge Michael Levanas took the request under submission, saying he would not rule until the trial resumes July 21. With at least one lawyer on vacation, the high-stakes case is in recess until then. A ruling is expected before Aug. 15, a deadline in the binding term sheet that calls for reasonable progress in the sale of the Clippers.
Levanas has shown impatience with Donald Sterling's lawyers when they insisted on repeating objections about the use of medical records. They claim the reports on his incapacity should not be admitted because they were revealed in violation of state and federal confidentiality laws. But Sterling signed the family trust, which says privacy restraints can be lifted in a review of either spouse's ability to run the trust.
The judge signaled he was reluctant to throw out the case on privacy grounds, given that Sterling's lawyers have not been able to cite any California law that would allow him to do so. That issue, and whether Sterling's move to revoke the family trust can kill his wife's sale of the team, will be contested in legal briefs from both sides.
The bulk of Thursday's court session focused on Shelly Sterling and her sudden emergence, after 33 years of her family's ownership, as the force guiding the future of the Clippers.
The team and its owners were thrown into crisis April 25, when the website TMZ posted a recording of Donald berating his female companion for bringing blacks to Clippers games — a rant that caused NBA chief Silver to fine Sterling $2.5 million and ban him for life from the league, and a change in ownership for the Clippers.
In the weeks immediately after the sanctions, her husband understood the necessity of selling and supported her efforts to do so, Shelly Sterling testified. "He was really nice and he was on the same page I was," she said, noting Donald even signed a May 22 letter saying he would sell his interest in the team and authorizing her to talk to the NBA about details.
When the team was sold to former Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer on May 29 for more than three times the highest price ever paid for an NBA team, Sterling said, she thought it was "fabulous." So did her husband, who she recalled saying, "Wow, you did a good job!"
But a day later, after receiving the papers removing him from decision-making power for the family trust, Sterling was not in such a generous mood. When Shelly Sterling and her lawyer phoned to ask whether they could come to his Beverly Hills home so he could sign the sales document, she testified, "He started screaming and yelling at me ... just uncontrollable."
She learned her husband was particularly upset by the NBA's lifetime ban and fine, so she called Silver to see whether he might lighten the punishments.
She recalled Silver saying the ban could be reduced to one year, with two additional years of probation, and the fine possibly reduced. Sterling said she relayed that information to her husband's lawyer Bobby Samini, telling him Donald should write out precisely what he wanted to agree to the sale. Donald never did so and the possible compromise died, she testified.
That scenario differs from the one Silver had suggested. Interviewed June 9, before an NBA Finals game, Silver said: "There is absolutely no possibility that the lifetime ban will be rescinded or that the fine will be changed in any way."
NBA spokesman Mike Bass did not address any private negotiations when asked about Shelly Sterling's testimony Thursday, saying only: "The commissioner never agreed to lift or modify the ban or the fine, which both remain in place."
Shelly Sterling also suggested her husband's efforts to kill the sale had cost the family trust in other ways. Because of the revocation, banks had the right to recall $500 million in outstanding loans, she testified. Sterling added she might have to use proceeds from the sale of the Clippers to repay the loans.
Samini said Donald was too good a customer for banks to demand payment now.