The $2 billion sale of the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers faces a key legal hurdle on Monday as the estranged husband and wife who own the franchise battle in court over control of the team.
Shelly Sterling, 79, has asked a Los Angeles judge to confirm her as having sole authority to sell the pro basketball franchise to former Microsoft Corp chief executive Steve Ballmer at an NBA-record price after husband Donald Sterling vowed to block the deal.
Attorneys for Donald Sterling plan to argue that Shelly Sterling misled him into submitting to mental fitness examinations in May which ultimately handed control to his wife when physicians deemed him incompetent to manage business affairs because of early Alzheimer’s disease.
In an unprecedented move, the league banned 80-year-old Donald Sterling for life and fined him $2.5 million in April after taped racist remarks he made privately were leaked to celebrity website TMZ.com during the Clippers’ playoff run.
The real estate billionaire’s comments imploring a girlfriend not to associate with black people sparked public outrage, caused sponsors to cut ties with the team while players considered a boycott.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Levanas will decide whether Shelly Sterling acted in accordance with the family trust that owns the Clippers and if Donald Sterling’s move to revoke the trust after the deal with Ballmer would invalidate the sale.
Donald Sterling’s mental capacity will not feature in the four-day trial after attorneys from both sides struck an agreement.
The sale to Ballmer has been tentatively approved by the league but must be voted on by other team owners. The vote is scheduled for July 15 - the same day Ballmer can back out of the deal if it is not approved.
The NBA has said it could seize the Clippers from the Sterlings and put the franchise up for auction if the deal is not approved by Sept. 15.
Donald Sterling’s attorneys have tried to delay the trial until August and last week asked for the case to be moved to federal court, alleging his health privacy rights had been violated.
Sterling, who has owned the Clippers for 33 years, has also sued the NBA and its commissioner, Adam Silver, for $1 billion in damages.