“This is not North Korea” – Why Donald Sterling is Still Fighting
On the verge of trial Donald Sterling’s attorneys have removed the probate case deciding his wife Shelley Sterling’s right to unilaterally sell the LA Clippers from Probate to Federal Court. The trial was set to begin Monday July 7, but Donald Sterling’s attorneys filed a Notice of Removal to Federal Court after hours on Thursday.
In a statement, Donald Sterling’s attorney Bobby Samini explained the decision for moving the case to federal court. “As we have stated repeatedly and from the onset of this matter, it is our contention that Donald’s privacy rights have been trampled by the release of his medical records. In our request for removal to federal court, we have reasserted that Donald’s rights under HIPAA and other federal privacy laws have been violated.”
The case will automatically be sent to federal court, but if the federal judge does not believe it is the proper forum the case can be sent back to probate court, further delaying any decision on the issues.
The NBA has set a deadline of September 15 to close the $2 Billion sale of the Los Angeles Clippers to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.
On Monday, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge will examine whether Shelly Sterling acted properly under the terms of a family trust when she agreed to sell husband Donald Sterling’s Los Angeles Clippers for $2 billion to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.
Both Sterlings are expected to testify.
The probate trial will garner interest not only for those wondering whether Donald Sterling will lose his basketball team for making racist remarks to his alleged mistress, V. Stiviano, but also for those who follow probate law, since there is little legal precedent for some questions before the court.
“There are definitely some issues here that are very unique, and however this comes down, there will be some interesting rulings,” Donald Sterling’s attorney, Bobby Samini, tells Wild About Trial. The judge “has a powder keg of a case in front of him.”
For instance, the trial will address whether probate court was the proper jurisdiction for Shelly Sterling’s attorneys to file the case – a legal issue that Donald Sterling’s attorneys hoped would be resolved ahead of time at a June 30 hearing. Shelly Sterling’s attorneys asked the court to confirm her authority to make the sale after her estranged husband seemed to repeatedly reverse his position on whether he approved of the sale, eventually coming down solidly against the move and filing a $1 billion federal lawsuit against the NBA.
Regardless of the outcome, the losing side is expected to appeal the decision or shop for a hearing in another jurisdiction, raising the question of whether Shelly Sterling will get any incontrovertible court ratification of her right to sell the team before the NBA’s Sept. 15 deadline for closing the deal.
Although Shelly Sterling’s attorneys last week criticized Donald Sterling’s lawyers for requesting a three-week continuance due to the unavailability of a key witness, Samini says the probate case could already have been resolved if the judge had ruled June 30 on jurisdiction.
“For whatever reason, the judge sidestepped that issue,” Samini said. “He should have answered it first.”
Another legal question at issue is whether Donald Sterling’s June 9 revocation of the family trust can quash the sale. The trust is revocable, meaning either of the two principals can withdraw at any time, with the assets reverting to them under the previous ownership terms.
Attorneys for Donald Sterling say they will show that he was “blindsided” by Shelly Sterling when she ushered him into meetings with doctors that he was not prepared for and while he was preoccupied with other matters. They allege that she then used findings of mental incompetence by those doctors to remove him from the family trust, declare herself sole trustee, and, on May 29, arrange a sale to Ballmer.
In a June 29 motion, Sterling lawyer Max Blecher asserts that Shelly Sterling “duped” her husband into undergoing medical exams with two physicians by not revealing that they would evaluate his mental competence – or lack thereof – to continue serving as trustee.
Because the exams “were procured under false pretenses and/or by undue influence,” they should be nullified, the financial transactions that took place in the wake of the medical reports should be ignored, and Shelly Sterling’s petition to the family court should be dismissed, Blecher wrote.
Shelly Sterling’s attorney, Pierce O’Donnell, said Donald Sterling must have understood that the examinations he underwent in May were to determine his mental fitness. He knew that the two doctors who saw him were mental health experts and he submitted to CT and PET scans at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, O’Donnell said.
“There was no duping,” O’Donnell told reporters. “Donald voluntarily went to Cedars to get the brain scan.”
Although attorneys agreed Monday that the trial will not specifically focus on Donald Sterling’s mental competence so much as whether Shelly Sterling acted properly, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Levanas told attorneys that, if necessary, he’ll pause the proceedings until July 21, when Dr. Jeffrey Cummings, an expert neurologist for Donald Sterling, will be available to testify that Donald Sterling is mentally competent.
If he is found mentally competent, the question remains: why does Donald Sterling oppose the $2 billion sale of a team for which he paid only $15 million, especially with the NBA so hostile toward him that it banned him from the NBA for life and fined him $2.5 million?
Samini insists it’s not about the money, it’s about not having property pried away from him over private remarks for which he has profusely apologized.
“We live in the United States, not North Korea. Forcing someone to sell their property because they expressed an inappropriate statement is not what this country is about,” says Samini. “If this were about his wallet, he’d take the $2 billion.”
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