An attorney for Shelly Sterling filed court papers Wednesday asking a probate judge to rule that she has the authority to sell the Los Angeles Clippers because her husband, 80-year-old Donald Sterling, is no longer mentally competent.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Levanas did not immediately rule on the request, but scheduled a four-day bench trial on the issue, beginning July 7. A pretrial hearing was set for June 23, but no decision is expected prior to the trial.
Shelly Sterling's attorney, Pierce O'Donnell, said he hoped to get a ruling by July 10 — ahead of a planned meeting of the NBA's Board of Governors in New York on July 15, when the league could approve the proposed $2 billion sale of the team to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.
"The court clearly understood the urgency of this matter and it is significant that Shelly Sterling, Steve Ballmer and the NBA are united," O'Donnell said.
He said Shelly Sterling was "reluctant" to bring the court action against her husband, but he said three doctors have certified that he "lacks the capacity" to manage the multimillion-dollar trust.
Attorneys for Donald Sterling have denied any mental incapacity. Attorney Bobby Samini said outside court he was confident his client would prevail at the trial, strongly denying that Sterling has any mental issues.
Samini also said he was pleased that Levanas did not hold an immediate hearing on the issue but opted to schedule a trial.
The legal battle is the latest twist in a complex legal struggle over the team's ownership. Donald Sterling, who had initially indicated support for the sale of the Clippers to Ballmer, instead decided this week to proceed with a $1 billion lawsuit he filed against the NBA.
His decision was apparently prompted by the NBA's refusal to cancel the punitive measures it ordered against him after tapes surfaced in which Sterling could be heard making racist comments. The NBA banned Sterling for life and fined him $2.5 million because of the recorded conversations with companion V. Stiviano, whom he chastised for having her picture taken with black people, including Magic Johnson.
He also told Stiviano, who is part black, not to bring black people to "my games."
Shelly Sterling announced late last month that she had negotiated the $2 billion sale of the franchise to Ballmer on behalf of the Sterling Family Trust. She said she had authority as head of the trust to negotiate the sale — claiming her husband's mental capacity was impaired.
Under her guidance, the trust also struck a deal with the NBA, under which the trust and Shelly Sterling agreed not to sue the league and also agreed to indemnify the NBA against "lawsuits from others, including from Donald Sterling."
She contends that brain scans conducted at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and subsequent examinations by neurologists showed her husband is no longer competent to manage his affairs.
Donald Sterling earlier filed paperwork with the NBA in response to its punitive actions, saying he had been recorded illegally while making emotional remarks to Stiviano during a "lovers' quarrel."
He also filed a $1 billion lawsuit against the league in U.S. District Court in downtown Los Angeles, alleging breach of contract and violation of anti-trust laws and of his civil rights. But last week, Sterling said he would not pursue the lawsuit and planned to sign off on the sale of the team to Ballmer.
On Monday, however, he made another about-face, issuing a statement through Samini saying he plans to push forward with the lawsuit and oppose the sale.
Sterling Tuesday again lashed out against the NBA.
"The NBA is a band of hypocrites and bullies," the Clippers co-owner said in a statement. "They will not stop until someone stands up. They have taken the liberty to desecrate my privacy rights and my right to own property."
He said the league's actions against him were designed to distract from its own past discrimination.
"We have to fight these despicable monsters," the statement said.
— City News Service