A Los Angeles County probate judge has scheduled a four-day trial for July 7-10 to determine whether Los Angeles Clippers co-owner Donald Sterling was properly removed as a trustee from the Sterling Family Trust, which agreed to sell the franchise to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer on May 29 for a record $2 billion.
The lawyers for Shelly Sterling, who assumed the role of sole trustee and negotiated the sale with Ballmer after two neurologists determined Donald Sterling was mentally incapacitated and no longer able to conduct his own legal and business affairs, requested an expedited hearing so that the sale could be approved by the NBA Board of Governors by July 15 and closed by September 15, as outlined in the purchase agreement. Both Ballmer and Shelly Sterling have agreed to a grace period that allows for board approval by September 15.
Should the sale not be closed by September 15, Ballmer theoretically could pull out of the deal and the NBA would be forced to begin termination proceedings against Sterling again, then sell the team itself. However, sources say there is no indication Ballmer would do that.
Ballmer has not yet funded the $2 billion sale, except for the $300 million he put in escrow during the bid process.
The court denied Shelly Sterling's request for relief. However, according to the ruling obtained by ESPN, "... given the upcoming deadlines regarding the proposed acquisition of the Los Angeles Clippers, the Court, on its own motion, sets the matter on shortened notice for a contested evidentiary hearing" before Judge Michael Levanas. A trial conference, where a list of witnesses will be submitted, is set for June 23.
Bobby Samini, one of the lawyers representing Donald Sterling, told ESPN after Wednesday's hearing that he intended to bring in independent experts to evaluate his client's mental status. Thus far, Donald Sterling had been personally evaluated by two neurologists, whose diagnoses and findings subsequently have been reviewed by a third expert.
Those examinations were part of the evidence submitted to the court on Wednesday. They included details of Donald Sterling's medical reports, including the cognitive tests he was asked to perform as part of the evaluations.
According to court documents filed Wednesday, three doctors concluded in May that Donald Sterling suffers from "mild cognitive impairment consistent with early Alzheimer's Disease'' or some other forms of brain disease.
One doctor, James E. Spar, who is affiliated with the division of geriatric psychiatry at UCLA, said he believes "Mr. Sterling is at risk of making potentially serious errors of judgment, impulse control and recall in the management of his finances and his trust.''
"In my opinion he is substantially unable to manage his finances and resist fraud and undue influence, and is no longer competent to act as trustee of his trust,'' Spar concluded.
Dr. Stephen L. Read, who also specializes in geriatric and forensic psychiatry in Los Angeles, said that X-ray and CT scans of Sterling's brain conducted May 16 showed "mild atrophy'' of brain tissue.
Read said personal opinion and the statements of other doctors provide "solid grounds for the determination that Mr. Donald T. Sterling lacks the capacity to function as trustee of the Sterling family estate.''