Testimony Ends in Trial Over $2 Billion Clippers Sale

The trial was full of emotion and drama, especially for a probate-court trial to determine technical legal and financial questions

Testimony ended Wednesday in the trial to determine whether Donald Sterling's estranged wife can sell the Los Angeles Clippers in a proposed $2 billion deal with former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.

Shelly Sterling, who had testified early in the trial, was expected to be the final witness, but her husband's lawyers decided not to call her back to the stand.

Instead, the final day's only witness was Dr. Jeffrey Cummings,  who criticized aspects of the reports by the two doctors who determined Donald Sterling was "mentally incapacitated."  It was based on those determinations that Shelly Sterling assumed control of the family trust that owned the Clippers, and negotiated a $2 billion sale.

Most of his testimony drew objections from Shelly Sterling's attorneys, and the Judge Michael Levanas at one point  said he didn't see how it would help him reach a decision.

"It's exasperating because he should see that the reports of these people are based upon examinations conducted in circumstances which Dr. Cummings said he's never seen before," Donald Sterling's attorney Max Blecher said outside of court.

"The incompetency is just a ploy, a ruse, a distraction so they can get rid of Donald Sterling who didn't want to sell the team," Blecher asserted.

After the court session, another member of the Donald Sterling team suggested her motive is take control of more than her half share of the community property - including the Clippers - accumulated during their nearly 60 year marriage.

"She wants control of the entirety of the state," said attorney Bobby Samini.  "It will never happen."

Shelly Sterling has maintained she is acting in the best interests of the family trust, which Donald Sterling dissolved shortly after the sale was announced.

Her  attorneys rested their case Tuesday, finishing with testimony that the Clippers face oblivion if the team's censured owner keeps control of the franchise.

Clippers Interim CEO Richard Parsons testified on Tuesday that coach Doc Rivers said he will leave if Donald Sterling stays, as well as players and sponsors.

Parsons said he fears there would also be an exodus of key players, including team captain Chris Paul, who also is black and heads the NBA players union.

Parsons was about to give an account of his conversations with Paul but was stopped by an objection by an NBA lawyer who said it would be an invasion of privacy. The judge upheld the objection.

Judge Levanas asked attorneys to file briefs Thursday, and return for closing arguments at 10 a.m. Monday.

The judge sees three main issues:

  • Whether Shelly Sterling and the Family Trust followed the proper procedure to remove Donald Sterling as a Trustee.  Even if so, 
  • Can the sale proceed after the dissolution of the Trust? If that is also true,
  • Should the court issue an order that the sale can go forward without being delayed waiting for a decision on any appeal that might be filed?

The trial was full of emotion and drama, especially for a probate-court trial to determine technical legal and financial questions.

Most of the fireworks came from Donald Sterling, who shouted at attorneys for both sides, denounced the NBA and its commissioner for trying to oust him from the league over racist recordings, and at one point called Shelly Sterling a "pig" as she left the witness stand.

Donald Sterling also filed a new lawsuit against on Tuesday his wife, the NBA and league Commissioner Adam Silver that alleges fraud, breach of contract, unfair business practices and infliction of emotional distress. He claimed, among other things, that he was tricked into being examined by psychiatrists to establish whether he was mentally competent.

That suit indicated an injunction to block the sale might be sought, but did not indicate when, and outside court Wednesday, Donald Sterling's attorneys declined to be specific.  Samini said they have not decided for certain whether they will seek it.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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