Legal expert says trust leaves Jeanie Buss in strong position to remain Lakers’ controlling owner

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Last month, Johnny Buss — the eldest of the Buss children who co-own the Lakers — tried to call a Board of Directors meeting for the team to elect a new board of directors. This came just days after Lakers’ controlling owner Jeanie Buss had removed brother Jim Buss from power in the Lakers’ basketball operations side and replaced him (and GM Mitch Kupchak) with Magic Johnson. Johnny proposed four directors to lead the franchise: Himself, Jim, and two minority owners from outside the family. Jeanie was not on the page.

Jeanie challenged that in court and Johnny withdrew his request.

The Los Angeles Times got a hold of the entire, complex trust that guides control of the Lakers and had it reviewed by legal experts. The finding is that the trust leaves Jeanie in a very strong position to remain controlling owner and governor of the team by design — the trust says that the other trustees will take whatever steps necessary to elect and keep Jeanie as the controlling owner.

“The language is pretty clear that Jim and Johnny have an ongoing duty to maintain Jeanie as the new controlling owner,” said Patrick Goodman, a probate law expert who teaches at UCLA. “Dr. Buss left practically no wiggle room to argue otherwise….

The experts don’t see a clear path for the brothers to successfully challenge their sister in court. Michael McCann, a sports law professor at the University of New Hampshire, called a scenario in which the brothers would convince other board members to remove her a “hypothetical that doesn’t seem grounded in reality” and called dissolving the trust “extremely unlikely.”

The question for the Lakers and the Buss family becomes, “what’s next?”

A person with direct knowledge of the situation who spoke on the condition they not be identified said the tension between the siblings has been building since last fall. The person said scenarios including buying out the brothers’ stakes in the team or borrowing money on their behalf were discussed before the matter became public.

“She’s got by far the strongest side of the argument,” the person said. “She needs to press her advantage, clarify this and get it out of the way.”

That buyout price is likely far too steep for Jeanie or the other Buss children on their own. Forbes just estimated the Lakers’ worth at $3 billion, and while there are reasons to think that number flawed if the Clippers sold for $2 billion to Steve Ballmer, it’s not unreasonable. Which means Jim and Johnny’s shares are worth $330 million each. That is, if the two are willing to sell for that price, it could be higher.

There are six Buss children, each who own 11 percent of the team. However, Jeanie, Jim, and Johnny are the directors with the power to elect three-fifths of the Board of Directors.

None of the Buss family would comment for the story, unsurprisingly.

In the end, this seems like something that will smolder for a while unless Jeanie can find a solution that satisfies the two brothers — and that will be both difficult and expensive.