History suggests opening multiple battle fronts tends to be a sign of desperation and a losing tactic in a war… but Donald Sterling is both desperate and a guy whose legal strategy seems to be to start as many battle fronts with the NBA as possible regardless of the chance of success. He just wants to be a disruptive bully and drag this out (for tax reasons).
However, the battle front that really matters in the Clippers sale is the probate case between Donald and his wife Shelly over the Sterling Family Trust (which owns the team). That’s the case where a judge will determine if Shelly and her lawyers followed the proper legal steps in having Donald declared incapacitated (which left Shelly as the lone trustee, and she set up the sale of the team). If Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Michael Levanas rules for Shelly, the sale of the Clippers to Steve Ballmer for $2 billion most likely goes through quickly. If Donald wins he dissolves the Trust and tries to stall the sale process (although the NBA just has the other owners vote him out).
Wednesday’s testimony centered on an Alzheimer’s disease expert questioning the validity of the mental test on Sterling and the results of those tests. The judge became annoyed with this line of questioning reports the Times because both sides decided before the trial that Sterling’s mental status would not be the issue — rather what matters is if the rules were followed from the trust. The expert said he thought the rules were not because part of the assessment was too casual.
Closing arguments are Monday. The judge likely rules in the coming weeks.
This case is different from the anti-trust case filed last month and the new lawsuit seeking damages that Sterling has filed against the NBA. Both of those cases could potentially become a nuisance and at worst an embarrassment to the NBA, but despite in both cases Sterling asked a judge to block the sale of the team legal experts say that is highly unlikely in those cases.
In the probate case, most of the observers in the courtroom think the judge will side with Shelly. Which is what the NBA wants.
Talk of the worst-case scenario painted by Clippers interim CEO on the stand Tuesday — Doc Rivers and key players trying to bolt, sponsors leaving and others not coming in, a downward spiral, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria — has never been a very likely outcome, mostly because the league would never let it come to that. If Donald Sterling does win the probate case the league will go back to Plan A and have the other owners just vote him out of the club (something the NBA can do if Sterling is deemed bad for business, and he is). The league is expected to move on that in mid-September if this case is still hanging out there.
Levanas will have ruled by then, but there are questions of the appeal (Levanas can say Shelly can sell the team during the appeal process).
Basically, we know how this movie is going to end, Donald Sterling will lose the Clippers, we just don’t know how we will get there yet.