Sterlings far apart on thoughts about probate hearing

Sterlings far apart on thoughts about probate hearing
Clippers owners Shelly, left, and Donald Sterling attend a game between the Clippers and Washington Wizards at Staples Center in 2011. Donald Sterling's lawyers say he should be an acting trustee of the family's holdings. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Lawyers for Donald and Shelly Sterling presented strikingly different views Wednesday of the appropriate scope of an upcoming probate hearing that is likely to determine control of their family trust, which owns the Clippers.

Donald Sterling wants a probate judge to step out of the matter entirely, denying his wife the court approval she is seeking for her sale of the NBA team last month to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.


If the court insists on ruling, Sterling's lawyers said, Donald Sterling wants a full hearing to prove his mental competency and right to remain as a trustee of the family's holdings.

Shelly Sterling wants a much more limited hearing by Superior Court Judge Michael Levanas. Her lawyers said the proceeding need only determine that two doctors who examined Donald Sterling in May are properly licensed, are experts in determining mental competency and that their examinations found him mentally not capable.

Shelly Sterling, 79, requested the probate court action to rule that she properly seized control of the trust because of her husband's deficiencies and that she properly sold the Clippers to realize the team's maximum value on behalf of the trust.

Donald Sterling, 80, said in Wednesday's filing that, in effect, Levanas should have no say because Sterling pulled out of the revocable trust on June 9. Given that revocation, "Shelly's petition is moot and the probate court lacks jurisdiction," Sterling's lawyers asserted.

If a revocation is recognized, the Clippers and the other assets in the trust could revert to the Sterlings as individuals. It is unclear what interest each would have in the team.

Shelly Sterling's lawyers countered that her husband can't opt out and take his share of the trust because she already lawfully took control of the trust and sold the Clippers. They also say that the sale of the team was binding and Donald Sterling cannot undo it nearly two weeks later by claiming he has pulled out of the trust.

Although the trust was set up to avoid the necessity for a court to approve transactions, an intervention is now a necessity to prevent the trust from losing the proceeds from the record $2-billion sale that Shelly Sterling signed May 29. Her deal with Ballmer required either Donald Sterling's irrevocable approval or a court ruling that Shelly could sell on her own.

There is nothing in the family trust that permits Donald Sterling to get additional opinions once two qualified doctors say he is no longer competent, his wife's lawyers argued. Sterling disagreed, saying he deserves a rebuttal because he went to the doctors under false pretenses.

"The doctors failed fully to disclose the purpose, nature and consequences of the mental examinations," he argued in the filing.

Following Monday's status conference, the two sides are scheduled to return to court July 7 for the probate hearing. Donald Sterling has requested a delay to allow a key expert to testify in person. But Shelly Sterling's lawyers say the hearing should proceed on time, lest the Clippers sale be put in jeopardy.

Shelly Sterling hurriedly sold the team before NBA owners could vote whether to strip the Sterlings of ownership after Donald Sterling was recorded telling a female companion not to associate with black people in public. If the league had taken control of the team, the NBA would have overseen the sale instead of the Sterlings.