When last we checked in with Donald T. Sterling, he'd changed his mind on assenting to the $2 billion sale of the Los Angeles Clippers to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, positioning himself as something of a crusading American hero in opposing his lifetime ban and $2.5 million fine following the publication of audio recordings in which he made racist remarks, precipitating the forced sale of the franchise he purchased for $12.5 million in 1981. This led Sterling's wife, Shelly Sterling, to take her husband to court to confirm her authority — laid out by the terms of the Sterling Family Trust — to sell the team with or without Donald's consent after neurologists had declared him "mentally incapacitated." (Not your average lover's quarrel, this.)
The Sterling-vs.-Sterling case on which the franchise's sale might hinge is slated to begin in probate court on July 7, and lawyers for both sides have been working their way through preliminary filings over the past couple of weeks. The latest filing's something of a doozy.
According to Ramona Shelburne of ESPN Los Angeles, Donald Sterling plans to argue that "the findings of one of the doctors who examined him to determine his mental capacity was compromised because the doctor went out for dinner and drinks with him, his estranged wife Shelly Sterling and a family friend after his examination."
In court documents filed last week, Donald Sterling's attorneys claimed that "it was unclear at what point a medical examination ceased and a social interaction began, with the consumption of alcoholic beverages taking place."
[Donald Sterling attorney Bobby] Samini said Monday night that when the doctor in question is cross-examined during the four-day trial that is set to begin July 7, he would ask whether "any part of your professional evaluation would take into consideration the conversation you had with him at the Polo Lounge?" [...]
A key part of Donald Sterling's legal strategy, Samini said, will be to argue that the findings of the first doctor, Meril S. Platzer, were compromised by her social interaction with the Sterlings after her exam.
Samini said he was present during the social interaction at the Polo Lounge, which is inside the Beverly Hills Hotel across the street from Sterling's Beverly Hills residence.
The Polo Lounge has long been one of Sterling's go-to spots, according to a recent Shelburne feature, a place where the longtime Clippers owner liked to do business and, um, other stuff:
The Polo Lounge was a favorite spot for courting free agents or meetings with his front-office staff. Donald liked to order for everyone at the table, then eat off their plates.
Over the years, he has thrown hundreds of parties in the hotel's swanky ballrooms. He paid for beautiful girls to serve food and start conversations. He employed photographers — some who actually took pictures, some who were paid to play paparazzi to give the scene a more frenzied feel.
In 2012, he hired Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin impersonators for a party to celebrate the Clippers' playoff berth. The Marilyn impersonator tried and failed to coax Blake Griffin and Chris Paul up on stage with her before seductively serenading then-coach Vinny Del Negro while everyone in the room watched. "It was awkward, to put it nicely," Griffin says. "Vinny ended up biting the bullet for us there."
Later, Sterling brought Paul up on stage with him. He asked for a round of applause for the point guard who had elevated the franchise to a new level, then joked, "Why is this guy married? Look at all the beautiful women in L.A." Paul's wife was in the audience. He smiled uncomfortably and said, "Because I love my wife."
Can't imagine why that'd confuse Donald so much.
If indeed the Sterlings and Samini genially knocked a couple back with Platzer following Donald's examination — during which the 80-year-old Sterling was reportedly unable to spell the word "world" backward, was "unaware of the season and initially had difficulty drawing a clock" — you might understand why Donald was angry enough to leave furious messages on the voice mail of Platzer and Dr. J. Edward Spar, a second psychiatrist who deemed Sterling unfit to conduct normal business. From James Rainey and Nathan Fenno of the Los Angeles Times:
In the first call, according to a recording of a voicemail filed in court, Sterling accused Platzer of improperly finding him incompetent and helping those who wanted to take away his rights. He told Platzer: "You're nothing but a fraud and a liar and a cheat and I'm gonna see that you lose your license and I'm suing you for conspiracy."
Three minutes later, Sterling called Spar and left a message berating the doctor for allegedly giving his mental health records to his wife's attorneys. "I'm so angry," Sterling said. "I just can't believe it." He added he was going to get Spar fired from his post at UCLA.
(The Times also has the audio of the voice-mail messages, which include some not-suitable-for-work language.)
It remains to be seen whether Samini's intended line of cross-examination will have any bearing on the scope of the trial itself. Superior Court Judge Michael Levanas ruled Monday that next week's trial "will look at the [Sterling Family Trust's] terms alone and not focus on whether the 80-year-old Sterling is mentally incapacitated," according to Tami Abdollah of The Associated Press:
The judge said another issue likely to be "front and center" during the trial is what happens to a deal that hasn't been closed when a trust is revoked. Donald Sterling revoked the trust on June 9 — weeks after Shelly Sterling negotiated the deal with Ballmer.
Shelly Sterling's attorneys contend that finishing the deal is part of winding down the trust's affairs and that she has an obligation to close the deal or Ballmer will sue.
But Donald Sterling's attorneys argue that a revocation means probate court has no jurisdiction and that winding down affairs refers to passive actions, not a sale that markedly changes the assets in the trust and its value.
NBA owners are scheduled to meet July 15 to vote on approving the sale of the Clippers to Ballmer, so when it comes to resolving Sterling-vs.-Sterling, time would seem to be of the essence. I'm guessing the parties involved won't be retiring to the Polo Lounge for happy hour once things wrap up.
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