The latest round in the contentious legal wrangling over ownership of the Clippers is scheduled for Wednesday, when Shelly Sterling’s lawyers plan to go to court to ask a judge to sign off on her takeover of a family trust, an action she used to clear the way for her sale of the NBA franchise.
Sterling late last month completed a whirlwind sale of the team that she and her husband, Donald, co-owned for more than three decades. Shelly Sterling said it was her right to sell the team because brain scans and visits with two neurologists showed that Donald Sterling was no longer mentally competent to manage his affairs.
She had declared on May 29 that terms of the family trust allowed her to become sole trustee. That was the same day that she announced that former Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer had prevailed in the bidding to buy the Clippers.
But Donald Sterling, 80, has contested both the sale of the team, for a record $2 billion, and the claim that he had lost mental capacity and could not manage his team and business empire. His lawyer, Max Blecher, called that contention “ridiculous.”
Shelly Sterling’s lawyers have now advised Blecher that they intend to go to Los Angeles County Superior Court on Wednesday to ask for a judge's stamp of approval on her solo control of the family trust.
“The understanding we have is that she is going to go in and say that he has cognitive impairment that has prevented him from making decisions,” said Blecher, one of several lawyers who has represented Donald Sterling. “And that is something we will oppose.”
It is unclear whether Wednesday's downtown hearing will be held in open court or a judge's chambers.
Rather than ask for an immediate ruling, Shelly Sterling is expected to ask a probate judge for an expedited hearing on her husband’s mental competency. “We will tell the judge that we just got these papers and need more time to look at it,” Blecher said.
Wednesday’s hearing is distinct from the legal challenge Donald Sterling previously filed against the NBA and Commissioner Adam Silver. That lawsuit asks for $1 billion in damages and claims that the league and Silver stripped Sterling of his rights — fining him $2.5 million and banning him from the league for life — without a fair hearing.
Sterling issued a statement Monday saying he intended to press ahead with those claims. But legal analysts have said the litigation against the NBA puts Sterling in a bind because his wife agreed to indemnify the league against any legal actions. If the NBA is forced to pay, the indemnification means the league can recover the proceeds from the Sterling family trust. Sterling would effectively be paying damages to himself.
The various court actions are part of a topsy-turvy saga that began April 25 with the release of Sterling’s recorded rant against African Americans. The struggle appeared as if it might be at an end a week ago, when Sterling said he would let the sale to Ballmer go through. But the 33-year owner of the Clippers reversed himself when he learned that the NBA would not rescind the fine and lifetime ban.