Donald Sterling

Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling at an NBA playoff game in April. Sterling has reportedly hired a new attorney and is expected to launch a legal battle to maintain ownership of the team. (Robyn Beck / AFP/Getty Images)

James Rainey
May 17, 2014

Donald Sterling is expected to launch what could be a long and contentious legal battle with the NBA over his ownership of the Clippers without the support of the big, politically connected law firm that has been with him for more than three decades.

Manatt, Phelps & Phillips will no longer represent Sterling and his wife, Shelly, because of the couple’s diverging interests from each other and from the team that is now being run day-to-day by Chief Executive Dick Parsons, who was appointed by the NBA.

The conflict leaves Manatt partner Robert Platt as chief counsel for the Clippers, but no longer a representative of the longtime owners.

The shift sent Donald Sterling scrambling for representation, according to several people familiar with the situation. Another top Los Angeles law firm spurned the Clippers’ controlling owner, according to people familiar with the situation, before he landed this week under the wing of an old ally, the veteran antitrust lawyer Maxwell M. Blecher. Those who told of the situation asked to remain anonymous because their discussions with Sterling and his allies were supposed to be confidential.

The legal shift is just the latest wave in the tempest that has engulfed Sterling, 80, since the appearance of an audiotape in which he told a companion he did not want her to bring blacks to Clippers games. As a result of the inflammatory comments, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver banned Sterling from the league, fined him $2.5 million and called on other team owners to strip Sterling of ownership of the team.

Criticism of Sterling redoubled this week when the real estate magnate went on CNN to apologize but ended up offending many people with a string of racially charged allegations against Magic Johnson and other African Americans. CNN host Anderson Cooper said the Clippers boss appeared for the interview without lawyers or public relations representatives.

Blecher emerged as Sterling’s new lawyer Thursday when it was revealed he sent the NBA a letter stating Sterling would not pay the fine because it violated his due process rights. It also asserted the league’s longest-tenured owner did not deserve “any punishment at all.”

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