Donald Sterling began his last-ditch legal effort to keep control of the Los Angeles Clippers by not showing up to testify.
The first day of the probate hearing to determine the fate of the Clippers’ sale took a surreal turn Monday when Pierce O’Donnell, the lawyer representing Sterling’s wife, Shelly, called Donald Sterling to testify. “The lawyer turned dramatically toward the door, knowing Sterling would not appear,” the Los Angeles Times reported, and then suggested that Superior Court Judge Michael Levanas issue a bench warrant. He backed down after Donald Sterling’s lawyers promised that he would appear on Tuesday.
At issue in a Los Angeles probate court is whether Shelly Sterling acted properly when she removed her husband from the family trust that controls the Clippers in order to sell the team. She and her husband both signed a clause in the trust last year that said either party could be removed from the trust if they showed signs of mental incapacitation. In May, two doctors examined Donald Sterling and found that he had Alzheimer’s disease. Shelly Sterling used these findings to remove her husband from the trust and move forward with her sale of the Clippers to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer without Donald Sterling’s consent.
Donald Sterling’s attorneys are expected to argue that the medical examinations were improperly conducted and that his privacy rights were violated when the diagnosis was publicly revealed, making Shelly Sterling’s actions illegal. Citing the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, Donald Sterling’s lawyers petitioned a federal court to take the case, a move that was rejected Monday by U.S. District Judge George H. Wu.
Donald Sterling’s lawyers said they thought Wu would take longer to make his decision, hence Sterling’s absence from court on Monday.
If Levanas sides with Shelly Sterling, the sale of the Clippers to Ballmer likely will move forward. Shelly Sterling and Ballmer set a July 15 sale deadline, although that can be moved back to Aug. 15 under the terms of the agreement. The NBA’s owners also will vote to approve the deal on July 15, nearly three months after NBA Commissioner Adam Silver banned Donald Sterling from the league for making racist comments and said he would move to force the sale of the team.
On Monday, neurologist Meril S. Platzer testified that she examined Donald Sterling for two hours and performed brain scans in May, finding that he suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. After breaking the news to the Sterlings, Platzer testified that Sterling merely said: “I am hungry. I want to eat.”
Platzer also testified that she went out to dinner with Shelly Sterling after the evaluation. About 15 minutes after she and Shelly Sterling sat down to eat at the Beverly Hills Hotel’s Polo Lounge, they were joined at the table — against their will — by Donald Sterling, one of his lawyers and a friend. Platzer claimed that this somewhat bizarre event had no influence on her diagnosis of Sterling.
Assuming Sterling shows up Tuesday to testify and the schedule gets back on track, the trial is expected to last until Thursday.