Judge OKs Clippers Sale to Steve Ballmer

Donald Sterling 2 - H - 2014
Associated Press

UPDATED: The Los Angeles superior court ruled against current owner Donald Sterling.

Donald Sterling’s time as owner of the Los Angeles Clippers is one step closer to over.

A Los Angeles superior court judge Monday ruled against Donald and approved Shelly Sterling’s deal to sell the team to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.

Shelly had the right to negotiate the sale of the Clippers in a record $2 billion dollar deal and rightfully had her husband removed from the family trust that owned the team, Judge Michael Levanas stated in a tentative ruling.

PHOTOS THR's Sports Issue: Exclusive Portraits of Vin Scully, Ronda Rousey, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

The decision, which will likely be approved in writing in 10 days, included an order that specified the ruling would stay in effect even if Donald's lawyers filed an appeal.

That order was given due to the time sensitivity of Ballmer's offer, which is set to expire Aug. 15.

While Shelly's and Ballmer's attorneys are very hopeful the deal will be closed in a few weeks, Donald's lawyers emphasized that he has other cases in progress to block the sale, which Donald's attorney Bobby Samini says means the sale is not guaranteed. In addition to the dispute that triggered today's ruling, Donald filed a new lawsuit Tuesday against the NBA, the Clippers and Shelly with allegations of being defrauded. He also sued the NBA in May, alleging antitrust and privacy violations.

His legal team intends to fight Monday's decision by filing a writ against Levanas' order when the judge's decision becomes final, Samini said. If that's approved, the appeal will take effect and stay the decision.

Samini said  his client's reaction to the ruling had been "very calm," but that he intends to continue trying to block the sale of the team in court. "His comment to me was that we have to push on and keep fighting on the other fronts," Samini said.

"This is one stage of a long war. This is one battle. We'd hoped for a different result, but this is not the end," he added.

The decision concludes a three-week probate trial over Shelly's negotiation to sell the team after her husband's racist remarks led the NBA to force a sale. His attorneys argued that the neurological examinations that found him incapacitated had been improperly conducted with the intent to remove him from the trust, and that when he later dissolved the family trust, Shelly was without rights to negotiate the sale of the team.

PHOTOS O.J. Simpson Murder Case At 20: A Look Back At the Trial of the Century

Levanas said in his ruling that he was convinced the exams by Drs. Meril Platzer and James Spar had been conducted solely because of Shelly's concern at her husband's cognitive function and emotional swings. 

They were not part of a plan to remove Donald from the trust if he did not comply with his wife's negotiations to sell the Clippers, Levanas said. "The court does not find any credible or compelling evidence of a 'secret plan B,'" he said, using to a term Donald's attorneys had often attached to Shelley's alleged scheming.

Shelly would not have been formulating a secret plan, he said, because Donald had encouraged his wife to negotiate the sale with Ballmer—telling her "Wow, you really did a good job" when she secured the $2-billion offer, she testified weeks ago—before abruptly pulling the plug on the sale on June 9.

Levanas dismissed other objections Donald’s lawyers had to the examinations—he stated he did not believe Donald's assertion that Dr. Platzer had been intoxicated while examining him, and that he believed Drs. Platzer and Spar's assertions Donald could not have "prepared" better for their exams had he known they would be used to remove him.

He ruled that while Donald had dissolved the trust on June 9, Shelly selling the team would be within the "winding up" of a trust's affairs permitted by the state probate code. 

PHOTOS Top 10 Money-Making Stadiums

Finally, Levanas granted a 1310(b) order to keep his ruling in effect even if Donald's lawyers file an appeal.

The order is for situations in which the trustee's property is in imminent danger. Levanas found the Clippers to face a significant decrease in value if the team is not sold to Ballmer, citing the previous week's testimony by Clippers interim CEO Richard Parsons that Clippers head coach Doc Rivers may quit and players may boycott the team if Donald Sterling remains owner. Levanas also agreed with Shelly's lawyers, fighting for the 1310(b) order, that the disclosure of offers lower than Ballmer's ($1.2 and $1.6 billion) would lower the team's going price if it were to be auctioned off by the NBA, which will seize the team on Sept. 15 if the Ballmer sale is not completed.

Shelly Sterling said in a press conference after the hearing that she is "sure" her husband will drop his continuing lawsuits over the team in light of the ruling. She said she thinks the NBA's lifetime ban on her husband will be lifted and that he will attend Clippers games when the team has "the best new owner anyone could find."

She expressed hope for her marriage, though the trial saw him call her a "pig" and testify that she had deceived him. "I hope it'll all work out between us—it will," she said. 

Pierce O'Donnell, Shelly's lawyer, said after the hearing that he is confident the sale will hand the team off to Ballmer by August 15, though he concedes Donald's other litigations present a potential stumbling block. "We hope at this point Donald realizes he can't run out the clock forever," O'Donnell said. "We're thrilled with this victory."

Eriq Gardner contributed to this report.

Email: Austin.Siegemund-Broka@THR.com

Twitter: @Asiegemundbroka