Donald Sterling loses court battle to prevent sale of Clippers

A happy Shelly Sterling speaks to the media Monday outside court in Los Angeles after a ruling favoring her deal to sell the Clippers to Steve Ballmer.
(Frederic J. Brown / AFP/Getty Images)

A judge gave Shelly Sterling a sweeping victory Monday afternoon and cleared the way for Steve Ballmer’s record $2-billion purchase of the Clippers to proceed.

In a tentative oral decision, Judge Michael Levanas ruled in Sterling’s favor on all three counts and rejected virtually all of Donald Sterling’s arguments in the probate trial in Los Angeles Superior Court.

The ruling included the extraordinary step of granting of Shelly Sterling’s request for an order under section 1310(b) of California’s probate code that allows the sale to be completed regardless of an appellate court’s intervention.


“Ballmer paid an amazing price that cannot be explained by the market,” Levanas said.

Levanas also ruled that Shelly Sterling acted properly when two doctors declared her husband mentally incapacitated in May under terms of the Sterling Family Trust before she proceeded to agree to sell the Clippers to Ballmer.

Shelly Sterling embraced her attorney, Pierce O’Donnell, in the courtroom following the ruling. Donald Sterling did not attend.

Shelly Sterling expressed relief that the trial was over and that a decision had been made in her favor.

“I haven’t slept for like about two months,” she said. “I’m going to go to sleep now. I’m just glad it’s over.”

The NBA praised the ruling in a statement released shortly after the decision.

“We are pleased that the court has affirmed Shelly Sterling’s right to sell the Los Angeles Clippers to Steve Ballmer. We look forward to the transaction closing as soon as possible.”

The judge endorsed the argument interim Clippers chief executive Richard Parsons made earlier in the trial that the franchise will enter a “death spiral” if Donald Sterling retains ownership. Donald Sterling revoked the trust in June, but Levanas said the court retained jurisdiction over the matter.


The judge announced his ruling minutes after closing arguments in the case concluded. The totality of Shelly Sterling’s victory quickly became clear, as Levanas derided the testimony of Donald Sterling’s two witnesses and rejected frequent claims by his lawyers of a “secret plan B” to oust him as Clippers owner.

Levanas called Shelly Sterling’s testimony “far and away more credible” than her husband’s and believed that genuine concern for his well-being motivated her arranging the mental exams in May.

Levanas made the announcement after almost two hours of closing arguments between lawyers for Donald and Shelly Sterling.

During the morning’s closing arguments, Max Blecher, an attorney for Donald Sterling, accused Shelly Sterling of “an invidious scheme to strip Donald Sterling of his ownership rights of the Clippers.”

With a raised voice and waving arms, Blecher, calling the situation “unconscionable” and “devious,” described NBA Commissioner Adam Silver as a co-conspirator with Shelly Sterling. Pierce O’Donnell, representing Shelly Sterling, dismissed Blecher’s assertion, saying, “This was an argument for the media, not for the court.”

Earlier, O’Donnell put the case in simple terms. “The doctors certified Donald as incapacitated. That’s the end of the matter,” O’Donnell said.


The Times’ Everett Cook contributed to this report.

Twitter: @nathanfenno