Sterling Clippers Ownership Trial Gets Under Way — Without Donald Sterling

Donald Sterling
Donald Sterling
 ASSOCIATED PRESS

The trial to determine whether Shelly Sterling had the authority to sell the Los Angeles Clippers began in a state court after it was reviewed and remanded by a federal court.

Proceedings were delayed Monday morning as attorneys for both Shelly and husband Donald Sterling waited for judge George H. Wu to decide if the federal court would hear the case.

"These proceedings have to stop at this point so the federal court can make its judgment," Donald Sterling's lawyer Bobby Samini said on Monday morning.

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"Elvis has left the building. The case is in front of the federal court in its entirety," he added. "[It depends on] if the federal court makes a ruling on whether it'll keep it, or send it back, or split it up and send some of it back."

Shelly Sterling is trying to overcome Donald Sterling's challenge to her $2 billion sale of the team to Microsoft billionaire Steve Ballmer in a timely fashion so the NBA owners can approve it by a July 15 deadline. The owners are set to meet that day, which is also when Ballmer's offer is set to expire. If the sale isn't completed by Sept. 15, the NBA said it could seize the team and put it up for auction.

On Thursday, July 3, Donald's attorneys filed a notice of removal to federal court, saying the airing of his medical information in the probate case violates federal privacy laws. In previous filings, they argued that Donald Sterling submitted to examinations of his mental competence under false pretenses, that there was undue influence in the doctors' findings, and that the examination and letters about his capacity were defective and incomplete.

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On Sunday night, Shelly Sterling's lawyers filed an emergency opposition to the notice of removal, and Monday morning Donald Sterling's team filed an opposition to that opposition. Proceedings were initially postponed until 11 a.m. Monday morning and then until until 2:30p.m. PT while attorneys awaited the federal court's decision.

"I think unfortunately this case is in procedural limbo," O'Donnell said on Monday morning. "I think that at this point we have been divested of jurisdiction.

"I must express my profound objection to these filings," he added.

A motion to continue the trial was filed by Donald Sterling's legal team, claiming that they had not been given enough time to gather depositions and discovery. Judge Michael Levanas denied the motion, however.

The first witness finally called in the proceedings was Donald Sterling, by attorney Pierce O'Donnell (representing Shelly Sterling), who then looked dramatically around the room to demonstrate that his witness wasn't there.

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O'Donnell claims to have subpoenaed Donald Sterling and produced an email to his lawyer Max Blecher (who was also not present) regarding said subpoena, to which Blecher had replied: "You don't have to serve him, I'll accept, even if I get fired." Samini said earlier that Donald was nearby if he needed to appear in court but he has not yet been subpoenaed.

Following opening statements from O'Donnell and Donald Sterling lawyer Gary Ruttenberg, the first witness to testify was Dr. Meril Platzer, one of the specialists who had tested Sterling for mental impairment. 

Ruttenberg objected to her testimony, arguing that it and the publicizing of any medical records from tests on Donald Sterling would violate federal privacy laws. "These are all fruit of a poisonous tree," he said.

O'Donnell responded citing a paragraph from the Sterling family trust that specifies individuals in the trust "[waive] the doctor-patient and/or psychiatrist-patient privilege" as well as privacy rights under health privacy federal law, and Levanas allowed Platzer's testimony and the use of medical records.

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Donald Sterling's lawyers have claimed that the exams of Donald's mental faculties were conducted with undue influence from Shelly for the purpose of removing Donald from the trust.  But Platzer said that when she was contacted to evaluate Donald by his wife, Shelly expressed only concern for her husband's health and said nothing about the legal implications of his condition. 

The Clippers owner's legal team have also argued that he would have eaten or rested better before the exams if he had known they would be applied to the trust. Platzer testified that no preparation or coaching could have altered the results of Donald's exams and that he was comfortable in his home during the tests.

She did testify, however, that when he was told his results were indicative of Alzheimer's, he responded, "I want to eat. I'm hungry."

The trial will continue on Tuesday, when Donald Sterling is expected to be in court.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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