Verdict looms in disputed $2 bln sale of NBA's L.A. Clippers

by Reuters
Monday, 28 July 2014 20:04 GMT

(Recasts throughout; adds details on closing arguments, background)

By Eric Kelsey

LOS ANGELES, July 28 (Reuters) - A judge said he will rule on Monday afternoon as to whether Los Angeles Clippers co-owner Donald Sterling can halt the record $2 billion sale of the NBA team brokered by his estranged wife.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Levanas said he would make his ruling orally after closing arguments in the probate trial had finished.

The emotionally-charged trial that featured combative testimony from the 80-year-old real estate billionaire deemed by physicians to have early Alzheimer's disease will determine if Shelly Sterling, Sterling's wife, can sell the team to former Microsoft Corp chief executive Steve Ballmer.

Sterling, who was banned for life by the NBA in April for racist remarks made privately that were taped and published, has vowed to block the sale he initially blessed because he alleges his wife improperly removed him as a trustee of the family trust that owns the Clippers.

Shelly Sterling's attorney, Pierce O'Donnell, argued she followed the procedures laid out in the trust and Sterling was not duped into submitting to the mental health exams that determined he could not manage business affairs.

"Donald was examined because Shelly cared about him," O'Donnell told the court.

"Donald wanted Shelly to sell the team," the attorney added. "He urged Shelly to sell the team. He talked to her every day about selling the team ... Shelly did his bidding and got a $2 billion price."

In the nine-day trial, interim Clippers CEO Richard Parsons testified that sponsors were ready to leave, head coach Doc Rivers may quit and players could refuse to play if Sterling was able to keep the team.

Sterling's attorneys have argued that the court has no authority to rule on the matter and said Shelly Sterling, 79, and her attorneys sold the team in a plot with the NBA to deprive her husband of his role as controlling owner.

"There's no way you can avoid finding what they engaged in was an invidious scheme," Sterling's attorney, Maxwell Blecher, told the court.

"She was his wife," Blecher exclaimed, while pointing his finger. "She was a co-trustee. She had an obligation to be completely candid with him."

Levanas will rule on whether Shelly Sterling has the obligation to complete the Clippers sale after her husband revoked the trust that owns the team following the deal with Ballmer.

The judge will also determine if the sale could go forward if Sterling chooses to appeal.

Sterling, who has owned the Clippers for 33 years, has also launched civil lawsuits in state and federal courts against the NBA, league Commissioner Adam Silver and his wife, alleging the team was illegally taken from him.

The NBA has said it could seize the Clippers from the Sterlings and put the franchise up for auction if the deal is not approved by Sept. 15. (Reporting by Eric Kelsey; Writing by Mary Milliken; Editing by G Crosse)

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