Sterling testily takes stage in Clippers trial
Donald Sterling, battling to stop the sale of his beloved Los Angeles Clippers, turned a courtroom into his personal stage, railing at a lawyer questioning him, denouncing doctors who deemed him incompetent and insisting he can get far more than the $2 billion price offered for the team.
Taking the stand Tuesday in a role he’ll resume on Wednesday, Sterling alternately declared his love for his wife, Shelly, with tears and then demeaned her as a woman intimidated by the “bad NBA” and incapable of handling such a large financial transaction.
Sterling, himself a lawyer, exerted his control over the proceedings in the non-jury civil trial from the moment he took the witness stand and accused lawyer Bert Fields of asking him a compound question. Judge Michael Levanas reminded Sterling that he was appearing as a witness, not an attorney.
Fields, one of the best known entertainment lawyers in Los Angeles, spoke so softly that Sterling complained he couldn’t hear him.
“Tell me what you want to accuse me of,” Sterling told Fields during a 90-minute afternoon appearance. “Stand up and be a man.”
The 80-year-old billionaire also called doctors who’ve declared he has Alzheimer’s disease “hired guns,” pleaded a faulty memory about some of his most controversial remarks and declared he could top the $2 billion offer for the Clippers by $10 billion by selling TV rights to Fox and winning an antitrust suit he’s filed against the NBA.
“What do you think, I’m doing this for ego?” he asked Fields.
“Yes,” the attorney replied.
“Well, you’re wrong, like you’re wrong with all your questions,” Sterling said.
He also repeatedly told Fields that he couldn’t hear him, but at one point also said he was a good lawyer.
As Sterling made continued outbursts, Superior Court Judge Michael Levanas tried futilely to take control of the situation, at one point telling him: “Go back to answering questions rather than making somewhat entertaining comments.”
After court, Fields said those who watched Sterling could easily draw their own conclusions on his competence.
“Is this a guy you’d employ to sell hamburgers?” Fields said.
The NBA has moved to oust Sterling from team ownership because of racist remarks he made to a girlfriend.
His lawyers are challenging the authority of Shelly Sterling under a family trust to unilaterally cut a deal for the team with former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.
In order to be able to make the deal herself, Shelly Sterling had two doctors examine her husband. They declared him mentally incapacitated and unable to act as an administrator of the Sterling Family Trust, which owns the Clippers.
Sterling angrily denied that on the witness stand.
“When I went to the Cleveland Clinic, they told me I was razor-sharp. I have five corporations and I run them every day,” he said.
Sterling acknowledged that he had offered to allow his wife to negotiate the sale at one point, but that was when he believed she would retain an interest in the team.
“I wanted to keep the team. I didn’t want to sell it,” he said.
Despite his challenge, Sterling repeatedly defended his wife and during a break before giving testimony, he pulled her down to his chair for a kiss. She wiped away a tear.
“I trust her today,” Sterling said on the stand. “The reason we’re here is because she’s afraid of this big NBA that’s trying to take everything away.”
At times, he sniffled and appeared to wipe away a tear.
NBA owners are scheduled to vote on the Ballmer deal on July 15. It’s also the day that Ballmer’s offer is set to expire — and there is no deal without the judge’s approval of the sale.
If the sale isn’t completed by Sept. 15, the league said it could seize the team and put it up for auction.