Donald and Shelly Sterling have been battling over whether she has the right to sell the Los Angeles Clippers without his consent.
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images
LOS ANGELES — A judge has ruled ruled that the proposed $2 billion sale of the Los Angeles Clippers can proceed.
The decision was a massive defeat for Donald Sterling, who has been trying to hang on to the NBA franchise – three months after the disclosure of recordings of his telling a girlfriend not to bring African-Americans to Clippers games and not to post photographs of herself with them on social media websites.
His estranged wife, Shelly Sterling, and Ballmer wanted the judge to sanction the agreement they reached that would turn the NBA team over to the former head of the software giant for a record $2 billion.
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The judge considered three issues:
Closing arguments began Monday on the first issue and continued into the afternoon.
“Shelly is here as a reluctant litigant,” said one of her attorneys, Pierce O’Donnell.
He said the matter was simple: Shelly Sterling followed the guidelines spelled out in the trust’s governing documents – she had her husband examined by two licensed doctors who normally determine issues of mental capacity, neither of them related by blood or marriage, and both of them certified he was suffering from dementia.
“The five requirements are clear and unambiguous, and they were fully complied with here,” O’Donnell said.
Donald Sterling’s attorney, Max Blecher, argued that Shelly Sterling duped her husband as part of a plot to steal the team out from under her husband’s control.
He argued that she had “unclean hands” in the entire affair – “filthy hands – not unclean hands, filthy hands.”
“It’s beyond the height of gall for this petitioner to come into this court of equity with this dirty little scheme and ask the court to bless it,” Blecher said.
Donald Sterling bought the team in 1981 for $12.5 million.
After decades of struggles – the Clippers made the playoffs only four times in the first 30 years the Sterlings owned it – the team has surged in recent seasons with stars like Blake Griffin and Chris Paul.
Donald and Shelly Sterling, who amassed a business empire worth billions on the strength of real estate investments, have not lived together for some time but have – until recently – continued to enjoy an amicable business relationship.
Donald Sterling has long been a controversial figure in Los Angeles – twice he was sued for housing discrimination. But it wasn’t until the recording of Sterling talking to a mistress, V. Stiviano, that public opinion galvanized against him. Within days, NBA commissioner Adam Silver announced that he would ban Sterling from the league for life and fine him $2.5 million. And he threatened to have other NBA owners vote to strip him of the team and sell it if he didn’t sell it on his own.
Shelly Sterling, with her estranged husband’s blessing, began the process of selling the team. But after he refused to sign off on the deal with Ballmer, she had him removed as a trustee. Donald Sterling subsequently revoked the trust, which had the practical effect of dissolving it.
Donald Sterling has subsequently filed a lawsuit, asserting that he is the sole shareholder in the corporation that owns the team and, as such, is the only one who can sell the team.
His attorneys have indicated that if they lost this fight in probate court, they would seek an injunction as part of that new lawsuit to block the sale.