LOS ANGELES – Shelly Sterling -- and the Los Angeles Clippers -- scored a clean sweep over Donald Sterling on Monday when a California judge issued a preliminary ruling that paves the way for the $2 billion sale of the team.
Judge Michael Levanas handed down an "oral tentative statement decision" that affirmed Shelly Sterling had the authority to reach an agreement in May to sell the team to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, who has set an Aug. 15 deadline to complete the deal. The judge said he would review objections before issuing a written ruling.
Even if Donald Sterling continues to fight, included in the judge's ruling is a key provision in California trust law that allows Shelly Sterling to proceed with the sale of the team "as if no appeal were pending," according to provision 1310(b).
"Rochelle's testimony was far and away more credible than Donald," Levanas said. "Donald's answers were often evasive and, in one instance, were inconsistent with his previous testimony."
After plenty of animated testimony in the weeks-long case, Levanas said the evidence showed that Shelly followed provisions of the Sterling Family Trust in having Donald examined by two doctors – who both found he was mentally incapacitated – and subsequently removed as co-trustee; that she has the authority to complete the sale of the team even though Donald revoked the trust June 9; and that the matter was urgent.
The probate court decision also could resolve potential controversy, with members of the Clippers talking about a potential boycott and coach Doc Rivers considering stepping down if Donald Sterling remains owner when the 2014-15 season starts in October.
Donald Sterling has two other suits pending in the matter — one contending his wife and Ballmer violated corporate law and the other seeking more than $1 billion in damages from the NBA.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said the league would move to strip the Sterlings' ownership if the sale was not final by Sept. 15. Silver banned Donald Sterling from the league for life and fined him $2.5 million in April after an audio recording of racist comments by Sterling were leaked to TMZ.com.
Lawyers for the two sides sparred while presenting closing arguments. Hammering the theme that Donald was defrauded when Shelly had him removed as a trustee, attorney Max Blecher said, "The petitioner's hands are not unclear, they're filthy ... Damn the trust agreement. She was his wife, she was his co-trustee and she had an obligation...to be completely candid with him.''
Pierce O'Donnell, one of Shelly's attorneys, fired back: "Donald Sterling was properly removed and this scheme that Mr. Blecher talks about, that he concocts, when looked at objectively, the facts show Shelly Sterling scrupulously followed the (trust) that Donald Sterling agreed to.''