S. Sterling's attorney heads to court

Wednesday, June 11, 2014
S. Sterling's attorney heads to court
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver reacts to the latest news concerning Shelly and Donald Sterling and the sale of the Clippers.

Shelly Sterling and her lawyers intend to seek an emergency order from a California probate court Wednesday morning for an expedited hearing to resolve the situation with her estranged husband, Donald Sterling, sources with knowledge of the situation told ESPN.

Shelly Sterling sold the Los Angeles Clippers to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer on May 29, without Donald Sterling's consent, after two neurologists found that he was "mentally incapacitated" and unfit to conduct his legal and business affairs.

While the guidelines of the Sterling Family Trust, which owns the Clippers, did not require a court order to make such a designation, Shelly Sterling and her lawyers now will seek one after Donald Sterling said in strongly worded statements Monday and Tuesday that "I WILL NOT SELL MY TEAM."

In public comments last week, both Donald Sterling and his attorneys indicated he would consent to the record-breaking sale. However, he has abruptly changed course this week.

"Two things happened," Sterling's longtime attorney Max Blecher told ESPN. "She decided to go for the mental incompetency to get rid of him. I think that ticked him off. And the frosting on the cupcake was [NBA commissioner Adam] Silver saying he was never going to repudiate the ban or the fines. I think Sterling [is] looking at this like, 'There's no dignity for me. I might as well fight.'

"If the league had reached out to him and said, 'Let's work something out, we can restore your dignity,' I think it's possible he would have changed his mind. But they didn't ... so he decided it wasn't worth doing the sale. He doesn't need the money. He wanted to fight for his dignity."

On Monday, Blecher had suggested Donald Sterling might challenge Shelly Sterling directly in probate court. Now, he said, Donald Sterling will respond to the motion she files Wednesday.

Blecher told ESPN that he will seek independent medical evaluations of Donald Sterling to evaluate the diagnosis and findings of the two neurologists who examined him previously.

In an interview with ESPN's Sage Steele during halftime of Game 3 of the NBA Finals on Tuesday, Silver said the NBA is essentially "on the sidelines" and standing back and allowing "this dispute between Donald and Shelly Sterling to play itself out."

"We had scheduled a hearing for our owners in which we were going to move to terminate his franchise," Silver told Steele. "We never got to that hearing because Shelly Sterling said to us, 'I'm selling the team,' and then she went and sold them the team. Donald's attorney actually sent us a letter saying he was agreeing to allow her to negotiate the sale of the franchise.

"But because we knew Donald was also suing us, we asked Shelly to indemnify us, to ensure if Donald didn't go along with the sale that she would cover us. She did. So this is really now a dispute between the Sterlings."

Neither Shelly Sterling nor Ballmer had any comment on Donald Sterling's latest assertions. Ballmer has not yet been approved by the NBA Board of Governors.

Sources with knowledge of the situation suggest that taking the matter through probate court could delay the sale process if Ballmer or the NBA is unwilling to accept Shelly Sterling's authority to act as the sole trustee and sell the team, or if they feel more comfortable waiting until all legal threats have been extinguished.

Donald Sterling filed a lawsuit against the NBA and Silver seeking $1 billion. However, as a condition of the sale, Shelly Sterling agreed to indemnify the league against those damages. Even if he were to win the lawsuit, the Sterling Family Trust would pay the damages.

Blecher said that "I think [Ballmer] told her that, that he's not going to go through with the sale unless Sterling signs off." However, sources with knowledge of the situation said the tech tycoon simply is waiting for the process to play out and has not made any definitive statements like that.

In a strongly worded statement issued by another of his lawyers, Bobby Samini, Donald Sterling does not mention any of his wife's actions and only takes exception to the NBA's move to terminate his ownership of the Clippers, his lifetime ban from the league and his $2.5 million fine in the wake of racist comments he made to his former assistant V. Stiviano that were published on TMZ on April 25.

In a statement titled "WHY I AM FIGHTING THE NBA? THE NBA WANTS TO TAKE AWAY OUR PRIVACY RIGHTS AND FREEDOM OF SPEECH," Sterling says he has "apologized for my mistakes. My apology is sincere" but "I want every American to know that I will not give up fighting for those rights."

Sterling calls the NBA, and in particular Silver, "incompetent, inexperienced and angry" and says "it is clear that they took this opportunity to settle the personal grievances they have harbored against me for years."

Asked why Sterling specifically mentions him in this latest statement, Silver told Steele, "I have no idea what he's talking about. The focus obviously shouldn't be on me or the NBA. This is about Donald Sterling and his conduct. If he wants to litigate, he'll litigate."

As he did in his initial response to the NBA's charges to terminate his ownership last month, Sterling also questions whether he is being held to a different standard than other owners.

"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," Sterling writes.

"For now, it seems Adam Silver is content with focusing his energy on violating my rights, attempting to take my property, and signing autographs for TMZ. Maybe once the dust settles, he will have some time to focus on the NBA's own transgressions."

That seems to echo Blecher's statement that Sterling has changed his mind about consenting to the sale in part because Silver refused to reconsider his lifetime ban and the $2.5 million fine or accommodate his desire to leave with "some dignity."

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