Donald Sterling, hoping to fix his reputation, could return to courtroom
JUN 04, 2014 3:48p ET
Donald Sterling remains holed up in his Beverly Hills mansion, ostracized by many, banned by the NBA and yet quietly pleased that his Los Angeles Clippers last week fetched a record sales price of $2 billion.
Sterling believes that if he had conducted the sale, instead of his wife Shelly, he might have pushed the price even higher, his lawyer, Max Blecher, said Tuesday. But Sterling's real concern -- one that might still send him to court in an attempt to block the jaw-dropping deal -- is that the windfall does nothing to mend his wounded reputation.
"He doesn't want to die and have his tombstone say, 'Here lies a mental incompetent and a racist,'" Blecher said. "He is trying to do the best he can to see whether those stigmas can be eliminated or at least reduced. ... That is what this is about."
Sterling filed a federal antitrust lawsuit against the NBA on Friday that became largely moot when the pro basketball league quickly accepted an agreement from the Sterling Family Trust to sell the team to former Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer. The NBA then canceled a hearing that had been scheduled Tuesday and was designed to remove the Sterlings as owners of the Clippers.
But Donald Sterling is considering suing his wife of 58 years, who asserted sole control of the family trust after doctors determined he was no longer able to conduct his own business affairs. She sold the team without her husband's involvement.
Blecher disputed the doctors' findings, saying his client was "functioning perfectly well."
Donald Sterling would prefer to come to a settlement with Shelly Sterling, his lawyer said. Blecher implied Sterling might be willing to sign off on the sale to Ballmer, but only if his wife withdraws the doctors' statements about his mental health and her assertion that she is sole trustee of the family trust.
If that fails, Sterling might sue, the lawyer said. So far, Blecher said, Sterling has heard no response from his wife.
A protracted court fight over the family trust could postpone, or even scuttle, the sale of the Clippers.
Shelly Sterling's attorney, Pierce O'Donnell, said she rightfully took control of the trust because of her husband's condition. "The sales process is going forward," O'Donnell said. "We are confident the provisions of the family trust were fully and literally complied with."
Ballmer's successful bid for the Clippers last Thursday seemed to promise a relatively quick end to a public melodrama that began in late April with the posting of an audio recording in which Donald Sterling disparaged companion V. Stiviano for appearing in public with blacks.
But other events this week suggested the tempest around the Sterlings would not subside any time soon.
A lawsuit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court by a purported love interest echoed the racially inflammatory allegations that led to Sterling's ban from the NBA. The complaint said Maiko Maya King had a romantic relationship with Sterling from 2005 through 2011 when she worked for him and his charitable foundation.
In the lawsuit, King charged that Sterling hired her again in 2013 as a personal assistant/caretaker but then "dangled money" in front of her only if she engaged in sex with him.
King also alleged Sterling made objectionable statements about minorities, including "black people do not take care of their children" and "Mexicans just do drive-by shootings." Last month, the lawsuit said, Sterling terminated King's employment when she continued to protest his behavior. A Sterling lawyer called King's allegations "completely baseless."
And in New York, police reportedly have charged a 40-year-old Long Island man with assault as a hate crime and aggravated harassment in connection with an incident Sunday night involving Stiviano, 31, whose audio recording touched off the furor over the Clippers owner's feelings about blacks.
A police spokesman said Dominick Diorio of Old Bethpage has been charged with two counts of assault and two counts of harassment. The spokesman said Diorio struck Stiviano in the face outside of a Manhattan hotel and directed "racial epithets" at her.
Sterling, 80, has not spoken publicly about the Clippers since his wife conducted a whirlwind sale of the team last week.
Blecher said that Shelly Sterling expressed concerns about her husband's health and persuaded him to see two neurologists -- one at UCLA Medical Center and the other at Cedars-Sinai.
Blecher declined to get into details of their diagnoses, but said both doctors offered the opinion that Sterling "could not make decisions on his own."
The examinations took place on the same day, May 22, that Donald Sterling signed a letter to the NBA agreeing to sell his interest in the Clippers, according to Blecher. The letter authorized his wife "to negotiate with the National Basketball Assn. regarding all issues in connection with a sale of the Los Angeles Clippers team."
"He told me he was going to see the doctor and it sounded like it was because of the loving wife who was concerned for him," Blecher said. "But it turns out, she did not level with him and he did not see it coming. I don't think he thought this was in the arsenal of things they would throw at him."
Shelly Sterling's representatives have said that she got her husband to see the doctors out of legitimate concern for his well-being. She had previously told television host Barbara Walters she worried her husband might have dementia.
Donald Sterling, who bought the team for $12.5 million in 1981, is also pondering whether to challenge the indemnification Shelly Sterling offered the NBA and Ballmer in the sale. That agreement means Sterling's trust would pay for any legal judgment or settlement that Sterling obtained; he would effectively be paying a legal settlement to himself.
Blecher suggested that Shelly Sterling may have breached her fiduciary duty to the trust by promising it would indemnify third parties -- putting their interests ahead of those of her husband and fellow trustee.
Blecher said: "We are looking at the question of whether the indemnity is worth the paper it is written on."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.