The legal question at hand is pretty simple: Did Shelly Sterling and her doctors follow the Sterling Family Trust rules in having Donald Sterling declared mentally incapacitated, leaving her the lone trustee.
Of course, nothing is ever that simple when Donald Sterling is involved.
First, the implications are bigger than that question because as the sole trustee Shelly Sterling set up a sale of the Los Angeles Clippers — owned by the trust — to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. Donald Sterling and his attorney say the trust’s rules were not followed and the mental tests are invalid — that the doctor had drinks with everyone in a bar after the test — meaning he should be re-instated as a trustee, which therefor would block the sale of the team.
The NBA backs that sale after having fined Donald Sterling and banned him for life following the leaked audio tape of bigoted remarks.
Because of all that is on the line Donald Sterling’s lawyers spent the first half of Monday trying to get the case kicked out of California Probate Court and up to a federal court. While that is not uncommon, in this case the federal court shot down that request, so in the afternoon it was back to probate and opening statements.
Well, once they found Donald Sterling’s lawyer, who went missing for a while. Because of course he did. Donald Sterling himself was not there, so everything just started without him.
Three trusted reporters on this case — Ramona Shelburne and Arash Markazi of ESPN as well as Dan Woike of the Orange County Register — were in the courtroom for the start of the trial and tweeted this out of it.
That’s where things stand now in a trial expected to last most of the week.
The long-term outcome for the Clippers is not really in doubt. If Donald Sterling wins and is reinstated as a trustee Commissioner Adam Silver and the NBA owners will just go back to Plan A and vote him out of his franchise (as they can do, all professional sports league are essentially like a country club with rules to expel members). Then the league will re-open the bidding and sell the team, with the profits being given to the Sterling Trust. However, Shelly Sterling — who gets seats and the games and would help run a charity with Ballmer loosely affiliated with the Clippers under terms of the Ballmer sale — would be out in the cold.