Donald Sterling lost his case in Los Angeles Superior Court against his wife Monday, clearing the way for a $2 billion sale of his NBA team, the Clippers.
At issue in the trial was whether Shelly Sterling acted properly when she took over the family trust in which the Clippers were held, citing the opinion of doctors that her husband was mentally incapacitated, and agreed to sell the team to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.
Judge Michael Levanas agreed with attorneys for Shelly Sterling on three counts: that she was officially in charge of the trust when she negotiated the sale; that Donald Sterling’s attempts to revoke the trust did not remove the court’s jurisdiction in the case; and that a clause in California probate code, section 1310(b), effectively renders the ruling invulnerable to appeal.
Section 1310(b) can be invoked when there is a threat that a trust may lose a great amount of value. During the trial, Clippers interim CEO Richard Parsons testified that Donald Sterling’s continued ownership of the team could plunge it further into a “death spiral.” Parsons also said that Coach Doc Rivers was inclined to leave if Sterling stayed, which he termed “a disaster.” Parsons also cited a potential loss of major corporate sponsors.
The ruling represents a huge victory not only for Shelly Sterling, but for the NBA, which had been seeking Donald Sterling’s ouster since April, when audio recordings of Sterling making racist comments emerged. Shortly thereafter, NBA Commissioner Adam Sterling announced that he was giving Sterling a lifetime ban.
However, recently Silver had warned that the legal wrangling could allow Sterling to remain as Clippers owner into the coming NBA season. The team’s star point guard, Chris Paul, described that scenario as “unacceptable.”
From a report in the Los Angeles Times:
Levanas called Shelly Sterling’s testimony “far and away more credible” than her husband’s and believed that genuine concern for his well-being motivated her arranging the mental exams in May.
Ballmer’s $2 billion bid for the Clippers would represent by far the largest amount of money ever spent to acquire an NBA franchise, and it would be second among all North American sports to the $2.1 billion the Los Angeles Dodgers fetched in 2012.