Donald Sterling’s wife asked a Los Angeles probate judge to rule that she has the authority to sell the Los Angeles Clippers against the wishes of her husband of 58 years, who she says is mentally incapacitated.
Shelly Sterling said in a filing today in Los Angeles Superior Court that she needs the confirmation, if her husband won’t give his consent, to close the $2 billion sale of the National Basketball Association team to former Microsoft Corp. Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer.
This week, Donald Sterling reversed himself and dropped his support for the sale of the team he has owned since 1981. Sterling, 80, changed his mind five days after he had agreed to the sale because the NBA wouldn’t rescind a lifetime ban and a $2.5 million fine it imposed on him amid an uproar over racist comments he made to a friend.
Shelly Sterling’s request is scheduled for a four-day trial beginning July 7. The closing date for the sale to Ballmer is July 15, and the NBA has set a Sept. 15 deadline for the sale to be completed, otherwise the league may seize and sell the team, according to the court filing.
“The court clearly understood the exigency of the matter,” Pierce O’Donnell, a lawyer for Shelly Sterling, said at the courthouse. “We are very pleased.”
Shelly Sterling agreed to sell the team to Ballmer to avoid the forced sale NBA Commissioner Adam Silver had sought after TMZ.com published secretly recorded conversations in which Sterling told a friend he didn’t want her to bring black people to Clippers games or post online pictures of herself with basketball Hall of Famer Earvin “Magic” Johnson.
Donald Sterling sued the NBA and Silver for $1 billion the day after his wife agreed to sell the team to Ballmer.
According to today’s filing, Shelly Sterling has sole authority as trustee of the Sterling Family Trust, which owns the Clippers, to sell assets if the other trustee, her husband, is found to be incapacitated. Donald Sterling was found mentally incapacitated by two physicians last month, according to his wife’s filing.
“I am disappointed that we have to expend time and resources defending the false and absurd assertion that my client lacks mental capacity,” Bobby Samini, a lawyer for Donald Sterling, said in an e-mail after the trial date was set.
Under the terms of the sale to Ballmer, if Donald Sterling doesn’t agree to the deal, Shelly Sterling must get a final non-appealable court order that she has sole authority to sell the Clippers. Since an appeal might take one or two years, Shelly Sterling also asked the court to rule that she can close the sale notwithstanding any appeal.
Ballmer, 58, outbid at least four other suitors for the team. Each of the bids shattered the previous record sale price for an NBA team of $550 million, paid in April for the Milwaukee Bucks. Ballmer, with a fortune of $18.9 billion, is the 39th-richest person in the world, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
If Donald Sterling delays the sale of the Clippers past Sept. 15, the NBA may conduct a forced sale of the team, Richard Buchanan, the league’s general counsel, said in a declaration filed with Shelly Sterling’s petition.
“Every day that Mr. Sterling remains an owner of the Clippers causes additional damage to the team,” Buchanan said. “The sale of the team to new ownership is the only way to put an end to this harm and permit the Clippers and the NBA to disassociate themselves from his abhorrent views and actions.”
Donald Sterling’s recorded remarks drew condemnation from President Barack Obama and NBA team owners including Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. Shelly Sterling said in today’s filing that her husband’s friend, V. Stiviano, leaked the recordings apparently in retaliation for a lawsuit Shelly Sterling had filed against her.
Shelly Sterling in March sued Stiviano, saying her husband had a sexual relationship with the woman and gave her a $1.8 million duplex, two Bentleys, a Ferrari and a Range Rover as well as $240,000 for her upkeep, all of which came out of community property, according to court filings.
Stiviano’s lawyer alleged in a court request to throw out that case that Shelly Sterling was complicit in her husband’s extramarital affairs and couldn’t ask for a return of the valuables that her husband freely gave away.
In his lawsuit, Donald Sterling accused the NBA and Silver of violating his rights under the California constitution.
Max Blecher, a lawyer for Sterling, said on June 5 that it was his understanding the NBA would lift the ban and not pursue the fine if Sterling let the sale go through.
The case over the sale is In the Matter of the Sterling Family Trust, BP152858, Los Angeles County Superior Court. The antitrust case is Sterling v. National Basketball Association, 14-cv-04192, U.S. District Court, Central District of California (Los Angeles).