The hearing regarding the Trust of Donald and Shelly Sterling has been recessed until July 21, leaving the validity of the sale of NBA Clippers team up in the air until then. The ongoing turmoil associated with the Sterling estate went public in April after TMZ released tapes of Donald Sterling making racist remarks (the tapes had been recorded by then girlfriend Vanessa Stiviano). Sterling was then fined and banned for life by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, and later pressured to sell the team. In mid May it became public that Mrs. Sterling had signed divorce papers, but had not filed them, and Donald began the battle to maintain control and ownership of the LA Clippers.
The Sterling vs. Sterling debate continued this week (ironically the family fireworks followed by 3 days the fireworks celebrating our nation’s independence) in Los Angeles county probate court. The issue the judge will be ruling on is whether or not Shelly had the right to independently sell the team due to Donald’s incapacitated state – in other words, did she remove him as trustee of the trust correctly. Following psychological and neurological examinations by at least two physicians (who concluded that Donald showed signs of Alzheimer’s disease and early stages of dementia), Shelly took over control of the family trust. Upon doing so she began the process to sell the team and entered into a deal to sell the Clippers for a record breaking 2 billion dollars. In court she testified that initially Donald was proud of the deal, even saying “Wow, you did a good job.” However this mood quickly changed as Donald struggled to maintain decision-making control in the family trust.
Although he was a no show on the first day of the hearing (he had been summoned to appear), when he was on the witness stand he spent some of the time challenging the attorneys (including his own) that questioned him and railing against the NBA. As Sterling’s testimony continued he became more and more combative, and at times acted as though he did not understand what he was being asked.
He testified as to his devotion and love for ex-wife Shelly with teary eyes, however he was heard saying “get away from me you pig” when she attempted to hug him in the courtroom. He also testified that Shelly only sold the Clippers because she was terrified of the NBA taking away everything she had devoted her life to building. Shelly contested this, and testified that part of the money earned in the sale would be used to pay off the estimated $500 million dollars the Sterling Family Trust owes to various banks.
Donald’s lawyers have consistently attempted to declare the reports of his incapacitated state inadmissible. However it has been revealed that the terms of the family trust lift the privacy restraints in cases of review for a spouse’s ability to run the trust. The sale of the LA Clippers must be completed by August 15.
Estate Planning and Probate Attorney, Manhattan Beach Local, Sports Enthusiast