Los Angeles Clippers

James Rainey
June 23, 2014

Shelly Sterling appeared to have the advantage after an initial hearing in probate court Monday, with a Los Angeles Superior Court judge saying that the terms of a family trust may give Donald Sterling little room to rebut a finding that he is mentally incapable of continuing as co-owner of the Clippers.

Judge Michael Levanas put off for at least a week a ruling on the scope of a trial on Shelly Sterling’s takeover of the family trust. She initiated the proceeding, asking the court to affirm both her control of the trust and her sale of the NBA team.

Levanas’ initial comments suggested her path to controlling the trust could be relatively simple.

“As I sit here right now, I don’t see how this [trust] document is ambiguous and you are going to go behind it” to have a full hearing into Donald Sterling’s mental competency, Levanas told lawyers for Donald Sterling.

The Sterling Family Trust, written in the 1990s and renewed last December, says that either of the Sterlings can be removed as co-trustee if two qualified doctors find that they are mentally incapacitated. That finding can be made without a court’s approval.

Shelly Sterling, 79, used the mechanism to take control of the trust on May 29 and sold the Clippers that night to former Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer for an NBA-record $2 billion. She asserted sole control of the trust after two psychiatrists wrote reports saying her 80-year-old husband is not mentally capable of managing his business affairs.

Levanas asked attorneys for Donald and Shelly to file additional papers before another hearing next Monday.

Unless lawyers for Donald Sterling can show that the trust provision for incapacity was unclear, Levanas said, his job might amount to little more than a “check list” — confirming that the two neurologists who examined Donald were qualified and that they found him incapable of conducting business as usual.

Ballmer’s lawyer, Adam L. Streisand, participated in Monday’s hearing and said he believes that the judge will hold a short trial to confirm the findings of the experts — Dr. J. Edward Spar and Dr. Meril Sue Platzer — and then validate Shelly Sterling’s actions.

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