Los Angeles Clippers Trial Begins Poorly for Donald Sterling

The trial to determine the fate and the ownership of the Los Angeles Clippers started yesterday in a Los Angeles probate court, as owners Donald Sterling and Shelly Sterling began what is sure to be a contentious march toward a largely inevitable conclusion: that both Sterlings will be out of the NBA sooner or later. Now they’re just arguing over price. A price that seems to be decidedly tilted towards Shelly  — as Donald’s attempts to have the case moved to Federal court, as well as his lawyer’s attempts to have his mental evaluations, the ones that had him ruled mentally unfit to halt the sale of the franchise, ignored by the court were both unsuccessful.

“Donald Sterling is arguing that the disclosure of his medical records violates several state privacy laws, and that the neurologist who gave the tests acted unprofessionally by heading out for food and drinks with both Donald and wife Shelly Sterling after administering the tests,” wrote Yahoo’s Kelly Dwyer, before noting that Mr. Sterling failed to appear in court on Monday — a situation that occurred because his team expected the decision on where the trial would be held to take longer than it did, explained Sterling’s lawyer. The situation may not have seemed to bleak if Sterling hadn’t been called as the first witness.

During its opening statement, Shelly Sterling’s legal team said that “the evidence will show Donald Sterling submitted to evaluation voluntarily, got scanned voluntarily,” and otherwise knew exactly what he was doing at the time he signed the agreement in 2013, and that he should be legally bound by that agreement. Donald Sterling’s legal team, invoking the “plan B” phraseology that was brought to the public by The New York Times back in June, says that the state of his mental competency would never have come to light if he had agreed to sell the team in the first place.

photograph: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

If Sterling fails to show in court Tuesday afternoon, it could be seen as a refusal to participate in the case, leading the judge to side with Shelly Sterling. The July 15 deadline for the sale, part of the agreement between Shelly Sterling and buyer-in-waiting Steve Ballmer (who has been linked to the purchase of at least one NBA team in the recent past, as he was part of the Seattle-based ownership group trying to purchase the Sacramento Kings and relocate them to the Emerald City), is one of the reasons that Shelly Sterling’s team is trying to get this wrapped up as soon as possible. Failing that, the sale’s agreement has a secondary deadline of August 15, per USA Today.

Regarding the attempts to delay the trial, and potentially sabotage the transfer of ownership, Mrs. Sterling’s lawyer’s described Donald’s actions as “desperation from a man who will do anything to keep the sale from going through. Why? Because of his ego.”

As long as Sterling refuses to consent to the Clipper’s sale, reportedly for a price of $2 billion, a court victory is essential for the deal to proceed.