LOS ANGELES >> With a $2 billion sale of the Los Angeles Clippers hanging in the balance, a judge suggested Monday that the terms of a family trust are clear enough to remove Donald Sterling as a trustee and allow his estranged wife to sell the team without his consent.
At one point, Superior Court Judge Michael Levanas said the Sterlings’ trust agreement is so unambiguous that "I could decide this case in five minutes."
At the center of the volatile court battle are reports from three doctors who examined the 80-year-old Sterling and found he shows symptoms of early Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. His lawyers argued he should be able to call his own experts at a trial set for July 7.
The judge said the trust agreement provides that if two doctors examined Sterling and found he lacked the capacity to manage his own affairs, he would be removed as a trustee. There is no provision to contest the decision, he said.
"I don’t know why you want the court involved at all," he told lawyers.
But by the end of a hearing in probate court, Levanas agreed to allow lawyers to submit written arguments and scheduled a hearing for June 30 ahead of the trial.
Sterling’s wife, Shelly, is trying to sell the team to former Microsoft executive Steve Ballmer, whose offer will expire on Sept. 15. NBA owners are to meet July 15 to vote on the deal.
Shelly Sterling struck the potentially record-breaking deal with Ballmer after Donald Sterling’s racist remarks to a girlfriend were recorded and publicized. The NBA moved to oust him as team owner, fined him $2.5 million and banned him for life.
Donald Sterling has sued the NBA for $1 billion in federal court, alleging that the league violated his constitutional rights, committed breach of contract and violated antitrust laws. Sterling has also hired four private investigation firms to dig up potential dirt on the NBA’s former and current commissioner and its owners for the case.
In court Monday, Sterling’s lawyers, Maxwell Blecher and Bobby Samini, said he is entitled to be examined by his own expert who would testify. They then insisted they needed a substantial delay in the trial because their expert is going to be gone for weeks speaking at a conference.
Shelly Sterling’s lawyer, Pierce O’Donnell, said it was a ploy to stop the sale. If the sale isn’t completed by Sept. 15, the NBA could seize the team and put it up for auction, he said.
"Delay is the enemy of this deal," O’Donnell told reporters outside court. "Mr. Sterling wants to kill the deal."
Samini, Donald Sterling’s lawyer, confirmed that. He told reporters: "Mr. Sterling is not in favor of selling the team. He never planned on selling the team. "
The judge ordered lawyers to file legal briefs beginning Wednesday.