Shelly Sterling to ask judge to expedite hearing on family trust

Shelly Sterling, left, is expected to argue that her estranged husband Donald Sterling, right, is not competent in matters regarding the sale of the Clippers.
(Andrew D. Bernstein / Getty Images; Danny Moloshok / Associated Press)

The latest round in the contentious legal wrangling over ownership of the Clippers is scheduled for Wednesday morning, when Shelly Sterling’s attorneys plan to go to court to ask a judge to expedite a hearing validating her takeover of a family trust — an action she used to clear the way for her sale of the NBA franchise.

The court date was arranged as her husband, Donald Sterling, continued Tuesday to unleash verbal broadsides against the NBA and Commissioner Adam Silver.

“The NBA is a band of hypocrites and bullies,” the Clippers co-owner said in a statement. “They will not stop until someone stands up. They have taken the liberty to desecrate my privacy rights and my right to own property.”

Donald Sterling, 80, said the league’s actions — which included a $2.5-million fine and lifetime ban against him for racially-inflammatory remarks — were designed to distract from its own past discrimination. “We have to fight these despicable monsters,” the statement said.

The NBA did not have an immediate comment.

Despite Sterling’s preoccupation with the NBA and his ongoing $1-billion lawsuit against the league, analysts familiar with the Clippers ownership crisis said the more crucial action is likely to come in probate court.


That’s where Shelly Sterling will be Wednesday, 13 days after she completed a whirlwind sale of the team that she and her husband co-owned for more than three decades. Shelly Sterling said it was her right to sell the team, after brain scans and evaluations by two neurologists showed that her husband was no longer mentally competent to manage his affairs. She is going to court to try to get a judge to affirm that assertion.

Donald Sterling has contested both the sale of the team to billionaire Steve Ballmer for a record $2 billion and the claim that he is mentally not capable of managing his business affairs. His lawyer, Max Blecher, called the incapacity claim “ridiculous” and said Sterling will mount a spirited defense in court.

Experts said that even if Shelly Sterling can get a judge to fast-track the probate action, it likely will take at least one to three weeks to set a hearing to decide if her husband has the mental capacity to handle his own affairs.

The hearing will likely include evidence from the brain scans that Sterling underwent last month at Cedars-Sinai hospital and two subsequent examinations by neurologists.

Donald Sterling is expected to commission new experts to buttress his case for remaining co-trustee of the trust that owns the Clippers. The two sides are also likely to present evidence about Sterling’s recent actions.

Shelly Sterling is expected to argue that her estranged husband’s recent flip flops on whether he would sell the Clippers show he is not competent. Donald Sterling has been both combative and acquiescent since late April when an audio recording was released in which he could be heard saying he did not want a companion, V. Stiviano, to bring African Americans to Clippers games.

Sterling first signaled that he would fight the NBA order to ban him for life and to force a sale of his team, then suggested he was ready to move on. Last week, his attorney issued a statement saying he would let the sale of the team to Ballmer go ahead. Days later, he returned to fight-mode after learning the NBA would not drop its lifetime ban and $2.5-million fine against him.

Donald Sterling’s associates have argued that he was only trying to accommodate his wife when he appeared willing to sell, but never wanted to unload a team he bought in 1981 for $12.5 million. He will likely put on witnesses to testify to his mental acuity.

“The removal of a trustee is a very serious matter and it won’t be done lightly by a judge,” said Jonathan L. Rosenbloom, former chair of the Los Angeles County Bar Assn.'s Trusts & Estates section. “Getting a finding of incapacity would give her tremendous power to neutralize whatever Donald might try to do.”

Donald Sterling, in Tuesday’s statement, said the NBA was involved in gender-based discriminatory lawsuits filed by league employees in the past.

“If the NBA is sincere about their approach, Adam Silver needs to publicly examine the NBA’s own conduct and the conduct of each and every owner,” he said.