[LA FEATURE]Sterling Firestorm

LA FEATURE

Coverage of the NBA's move to oust Clippers owner Donald Sterling

NBA Knew of Sterling's Previous Misconduct Accusations, Didn't Take Action

In some cases, Sterling acknowledged misconduct when questioned under oath during depositions, officials say

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Embattled Clippers owner Donald Sterling has been accused repeatedly of unlawful misconduct in litigation that dates back decades. Tuesday, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said the league had been aware of only two previous cases. In a 1996 case Silver did not name, alleging sexual harassment, the accuser's attorney recalls it was the league's insurance company that defended the case. Patrick Healy reports from Malibu for the NBC4 News at 6 p.m. on Thursday, May 1, 2014. (Published Thursday, May 1, 2014)

    The NBA was aware of unlawful misconduct allegations against censured Clippers owner Donald Sterling as long as 18 years ago, according to an attorney who filed a 1996 sexual misconduct suit against him.

    "My recollection is that it was actually the insurance company for the NBA that defended the case. The league was quite aware of that," attorney Natasha Roit said.

    At the time, the case also received considerable coverage in media.

    More allegations came forward in later lawsuits, some of which were settled with confidentiality clauses. In some cases, Sterling acknowledged misconduct when questioned under oath during depositions.

    However, the league had never fined or suspended Sterling until Tuesday, after the release of a recording of him making disparaging racial comments.

    Why the NBA had not previously taken action was raised during the news conference Tuesday when NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced he was banning Sterling for life, and recommending team owners take action to force Sterling to terminate his Clippers ownership.

    In response to a question, Silver said only two cases from recent years had previously come to the league's attention. In one, former General Manager Elgin Baylor accused Sterling of discriminating by age and race in wrongfully terminating Baylor.

    "It concerned us greatly. We followed the litigation closely," Silver said. But he said the league did not take action because Baylor lost the suit in 2011.

    The other case was a federal unfair housing action brought against Sterling and his wife for allegedly discriminating against minorities and families with children who sought to rent apartments in buildings owned by Sterling entities.

    Under a 2009 settlement, the Sterlings admitted no wrongdoing but agreed to pay $2.725 million dollars. Silver cited the fact there was "no finding of guilt."

    "Those are the only two cases that have been brought to our attention," Silver said.

    Silver became NBA commissioner earlier this year.

    The 1996 sexual harassment suit was brought on behalf of Christine Jaksy, who worked as an independent contractor for one of Sterling's companies.

    It was alleged that Sterling engaged in unwanted touching of women in the office, and soliciting them for sexual favors for himself and for his friends.

    "We had evidence to support it," Roit said.

    What made an impression on Roit was the vigorous response of Sterling and his legal team.

    "He came immediately with a threat of malicious prosecution, a cross-complaint, a law firm that bombarded us with daily letters and threats," Roit said.

    Late Thursday, NBC4 attempted to contact the attorney who had represented Sterling in the Jaksy case, but reached only his voice mail.

    The case was well into discovery, with depositions taken of Sterling and others, but before getting to trial a settlement was reached with confidential terms.

    "My recollection is that Sterling did not want to resolve the case, but the insurance company did." Roit said.

    In 2003, a confidential settlement was reached in another case in which Sterling acknowledged paying a woman for sex. Sterling had brought the initial legal action against Alexandra Castro in an effort to regain possession of a Beverly Hills house she contended he had given her as a gift.

    The Castro case has parallels to the current case involving V. Stiviano, the woman in the now infamous recordings whom Sterling is heard chastising for associating publicly with minorities.

    Last month, Sterling's wife Rochelle had sued Stiviano, formerly known as Vanessa Perez, to recover a duplex and a Ferrari, among other gifts from Donald Sterling. Stiviano's lawyer has dismissed reports describing Stiviano as Sterling's girlfriend or romantic companion, saying his client was working as an "archivist" for the billionaire.

    The Clippers owner has not indicated whether he will fight to keep the team. But Roit sees no way he can prevail.

    "Mr. Sterling's method of trying to intimidate people who stand up for their rights I don't think will work with the NBA owners," Roit said.

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