LOS ANGELES -- An appellate court caught in an extraordinary legal snafu refused Friday to consider Donald Sterling's request to block the $2 billion sale of the Los Angeles Clippers to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer but said he could file it again.
In a purely procedural move, Superior Court Judge Michael Levanas withdrew his final statement of decision in the probate case between Sterling and his estranged wife Shelly Sterling over the impending sale of the team.
"The petition is denied without prejudice to re-filing at the appropriate time in that presently there is nothing for this court to review," said the three-judge appellate panel in a ruling issued late Friday.
The reason was a series of miscommunications between the judge and the lawyers for Donald Sterling, who had asked on Thursday for more time to file objections to his ruling. Having heard no response by noon Friday, they filed their request for a writ of mandate overturning the judge's decision. But three hours later, Levanas withdrew his decision and gave them until next Wednesday to file their objections, said Stephen Smith, a member of Shelly Sterling's legal team.
The end result is that Friday's events were a dress rehearsal for a legal drama likely to be concluded next week. Donald Sterling's lawyers will file their objections. The judge will write his final statement of decision with or without changes and the lawyers will then go to the appellate court, Smith said.
He acknowledged it was all quite confusing.
"This case certainly has a lot of moving parts," Smith said.
Earlier, when Donald Sterling's writ request was filed, Ballmer's lawyer quickly denounced the move.
Lawyers for Sterling had asked the Second District Court of Appeal to stay Levanas' ruling that cleared the way for the sale. They said the judge prematurely finalized his ruling so the sale can be completed without a chance to appeal.
Sterling's appellate lawyers said in their request for a writ of mandate that if the sale goes through, "Donald will have lost a unique and irretrievable asset: a `trophy asset' coveted by high net worth individuals around the world -- one of thirty NBA franchises in the country, and one that under Donald's thirty-year ownership has recently become one of the most successful."
The main complaint of the appellants is the judge's decision to allow the sale to go forward with no time for an appeal. He used a section of law that bars a stay of his decision. Given that provision, it was unclear if the appeal would have any effect. The sale could conceivably go forward while the appeal makes its way through the courts.
Adam Streisand, the attorney for Ballmer, said in a statement: "We won this trial because Donald Sterling is on an egotistical crusade to destroy the Clippers if he can't keep the team, and he can't. We will win the appeal for the very same reason."
A spokesman for the attorneys representing Shelly Sterling issued a statement similarly attacking Donald Sterling's motives.
"Donald's petition for writ of mandate is another desperate act by a desperate man," the statement said. "The decision by Judge ... Levanas -- after three weeks of trial -- is a correct decision on the law and the undisputed evidence. Donald will do anything to kill the record-shattering $2B sale of the Clippers. His petition is frivolous."