A day after a wide-ranging defeat in court that cleared a path for the Clippers to be sold for $2 billion, Donald Sterling hasn’t given up.
"The ruling yesterday only reinforced to him that he has to continue fighting," Sterling attorney Bobby Samini said Tuesday, "and as of 10 minutes ago it hasn’t changed."
Instead of an end to the three-month saga, the preliminary decision by Judge Michael Levanas in Los Angeles Superior Court is but one battle, Samini believed, in a war to keep the Clippers.
Donald Sterling attorney Bobby Samini says his client remains committed to fighting against the proposed sale of the Clippers. (Nick Ut / Associated Press)
That fight now centers on 115 words of California’s probate code.
Shelly Sterling’s victory Monday included Levanas’ invoking section 1310(b) of the probate code that allows the sale of the Clippers to Steve Ballmer regardless of any appeal by Donald Sterling.
On the rare occasions when section 1310(b) is granted, it’s usually for cases involving guardianship or conservatorship. The section exists to protect people from themselves, said Patrick Goodman, a probate and appellate law expert who teaches at UCLA.
In Monday’s ruling, Levanas maintained that not using 1310(b) could inflict significant financial harm on the Sterling Family Trust, through which the Sterlings own the Clippers.
"If Ballmer’s offer fails because the court does not offer 1310(b) protection, the trust will lose $400 million in value," Levanas said.
The judge called the potential loss "massive and imminent." Without the 1310(b) order, Donald Sterling could appeal and possibly tie up the case for more than a year.
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"It’s highly unusual, but you don’t often get $2-billion sales coming before the court with a substantial risk that you might lose it," said Kenneth Wolf, a Los Angeles attorney with expertise in probate and trust matters. "Had [Levanas] not issued the 1310(b) ruling, his order would have been effectively eviscerated."
Sterling’s legal options may be dwindling, but they aren’t exhausted.
There is a way around the 1310(b) order that, if left in place, would allow Donald Sterling to seek monetary damages on appeal for any loss of value to the Clippers.
"That would be really difficult to show given the record price," Goodman said.
In the next week, Samini will petition an appellate court to set aside the 1310(b) order. This will form the next battleground in Sterling’s legal struggle that also includes a federal antitrust lawsuit against the NBA and litigation in Superior Court that names Shelly Sterling and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and claims Donald Sterling is the lone shareholder of the Clippers.
Such a maneuver by Samini, which isn’t an appeal, will also be accompanied by a request to delay implementation of the 1310(b) order until the appellate court rules.
A Los Angeles County probate judge has cleared the way for L.A. Clippers owner Shelley Sterling to sell the team for $2 billion. Former Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer is the potential buyer.
For the petition to succeed, Wolf said, there has to be a showing of irreparable harm.
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"They have a right to do it and it isn’t going to work," Adam Streisand, Steve Ballmer’s attorney, said Monday.
Goodman sees long odds for success, given the difficulty in convincing an appellate court that the trial court erred and the mistake must be fixed immediately.
"But this is such a novel case, anything can happen," Goodman said.
If that path isn’t successful for Sterling, he could try a similar strategy with the California Supreme Court.
Samini also plans to seek an injunction in the lawsuit against Shelly Sterling and Silver to prevent the sale of the Clippers. He called that case "the next frontier" in Donald Sterling’s fight.