A federal judge in Los Angeles ruled Monday that David Stern, National Basketball Assn. commissioner, will serve as the arbitrator on the Clippers’ demand that last September’s six-player trade with the Milwaukee Bucks be rescinded. The Clippers filed a petition last month that seeks to nullify the trade that brought Marques Johnson to the Clippers for Terry Cummings. The Clippers maintain that the Bucks purposely withheld information of Johnson’s 1983 stay in a drug rehabilitation center and that the Clippers would not have made the trade had they been aware of Johnson’s drug history. No date for the arbitration hearing has been set.
Arn Tellem, Clipper general counsel, said that the club will appeal the court’s decision.
The NBA constitution states that the commissioner will resolve all disputes between teams, but the Clippers argued that Stern would be biased in his judgment because the NBA’s $25 million suit against the franchise for moving from San Diego without league permission is pending. The Clippers also have filed a countersuit against the league and its member teams, seeking damages.
“The court’s position was that we don’t know yet the extent of Stern’s bias until after the hearing,” Tellem said. “The court said we should come in after the hearing is resolved and then show whether he was biased.”
In her ruling, U.S. District Judge Connie Marshall said: “I do not find that the extreme circumstances exist for ordering a new arbitration.”
Ronald Rauchberg, an attorney representing Stern, told the court that the 23 NBA teams agreed to the constitution and the provision to have Stern arbitrate all disputes to avoid having the league move in 23 directions.
The Clippers originally sent a letter to Stern May 16, asking him to disqualify himself because of his involvement in the league’s suit against the team. On May 20, Stern contacted the Bucks’ lawyers, seeking their position. The Bucks told Stern that they would refuse to participate in an arbitration proceeding not presided over by Stern.