Sterling v. Sterling: Battle of High Powered Lawyers

The civil court case involving Sterling vs. Sterling continues over the fate of the Los Angeles Clippers

Two main issues emerged Monday in the legal battle over the proposed sale of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team, and the highly charged matter of the mental competence of Donald Sterling is not one of them.

In the case filed by Shelly Sterling that has pitted her against her husband, lawyers for both sides reached consensus on narrowing the focus of the trial scheduled to begin next Monday.

Shelly Sterling is seeking court approval to proceed with the sale of the Clippers to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer for $2 billion.  Donald Sterling contends it cannot go forward without his permission. 

The Clippers  have been owned by the Sterling Family Trust, of which the husband and wife had served as co-trustees.  But on May 29, in a move engineered by Shelly Sterling and her legal team, the trust declared Donald Sterling, now 80,  was no longer capable of serving as a trustee, citing doctors' reports he was "mentally incapacitated."

Last Saturday, a psychiatrist retained by Donald Sterling determined he does not have dementia, but merely mild cognitive impairment, according to Sterling attorney Bobby Samini. 

But the anticipated duel of medical experts in court will not occur, attorneys for both sides now say.

Instead, the issue will be less medical than legal:  whether the trust under Shelly Sterling properly followed the procedure that the trust agreement spells out for removing a trustee.

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Donald Sterling's lawyers assert it was done fraudulently.

"We are going to argue that their (psychiatric) examinations were by way of undo influence, that their examinations were incomplete, that there was fraud in the examination," said Samini, declining to offer specifics outside the courtroom.

Shelly Sterling's legal team rejects the notion Donald Sterling was deceived or tricked.  "There was no duping," said Pierce O'Donnell of Shelly Sterling's legal team.  "Donald voluntarily went to Cedar's (Sinai Medical Center) to get the brain scan," O'Donnell said.

If Shelly Sterling's team can get past that issue, there's one more legal hurdle that came into focus Monday:  the termination of the trust.

Donald Sterling exercised his right on June 9 to revoke the trust agreement, and in court, Shelly's attorneys acknowledged he had the right to do that.

Now his attorneys argue that leaves her without authority to proceed with the sale, and further that when  Ballmer reached the agreement with Shelly Sterling, he was aware there could be a snag.

"He knew there was a problem. So whether his contract is enforcable is another day, another court," said Gary Ruttenberg, another Donald Sterling attorney.  Ruttenberg contends the termination of the trust means the probate court would not have jurisdiction.

Shelly Sterling is seeking a court ruling in her favor before the NBA owners meeting on the fifteenth of the month, and the trial is scheduled to begin next Monday.

Donald Sterling's attorneys had requested more time to prepare, but Judge Michael Levanas denied their request for a delay.

Also in the courtroom Monday was Ballmer's  attorney, Adam Streisand.

Afterwards, he said Ballmer is prepared to close the sale this month, and he praised the Judge's ruling to go forward with the trial.

But Ballmer's commitment to purchase the Clippers is not open-ended.  If the sale cannot be approved at the owners meeting this month, the agreement allows for a one month extension till August 15, Streisand said.

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