The on-going saga of Donald Sterling’s public meltdown took another bizarre twist recently when his estranged wife, Shelly Sterling, sought a court order against the disgraced owner of the Los Angeles Clippers after he allegedly threatened witnesses in connection with the contested sale of the team.
Shelly Sterling had sought an emergency protective order after Donald Sterling had left hostile voicemails for the two doctors who had found him mentally incompetent. Donald Sterling was also accused of threatening Ms. Sterling’s attorney.
The doctors’ opinions give Ms. Sterling sole authority to negotiate the sale of the Clippers to former Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer for $2 billion, according to the provisions of the Sterling Family Trust.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Levanas presided over a hearing whether or not to grant Ms. Sterling’s request for a protective order based on voicemails Donald Sterling had left for the doctors and Ms. Sterling’s attorney. During the hearing, the judge recommended that the parties “tone down the pre-trial communication” between each other. 1
What Did Donald Sterling Say This Time?
Shelly Sterling’s attorney, Pierce O’Donnell, presented voice recordings attributed to Donald Sterling made on June 9. In one of the voicemails, Sterling lashes out at Dr. Meril Sue Platzer: “What a horrible woman you are….Your nothing but a fraud and a liar and a cheat.” He then threatens to sue her for conspiracy, stating “I’m going to see that you lose your license. “2
That same day, Sterling left a profanity-laced voicemail for Dr. James Edward Spar, stating “I’m not incompetent. You’re [&*%!] incompetent…I’ll show you what I think of you when I see you in court.” 3
Sterling then continues his tirade by threatening the doctor’s employment: “I’m gonna get you fired from UCLA because you’re nothing but a tramp. How dare you let someone use you that way…You know, you rely on doctors. You think that they’ll be above it all. But obviously you’re not. You’ll sell yourself for nothing. How dare you? How dare you give my records to a lawyer for the purposes of using it against me?” 4
Sterling was reacting to the fact that medical records of his reported incompetency had been made publicly known.
Sterling also is said to have threatened Shelly Sterling’s attorney in a call on June 9. According to O’Donnell’s court statement, Sterling reportedly said to O’Donnell, “I’m going to take you out, O’Donnell” and “sue everybody.” O’Donnell told reporters outside the courtroom where the hearing took place that he took Sterling’s statement as a “death threat.” 5
However, the judge disagreed, denying Ms. Sterling’s request for a protective order because he did not believe that the voicemails rose to a “level of great and irreparable injury.” 6
What Effect Does the Judge’s Decision Have on the Sale of the Clippers?
It is unclear what effect, if any, the judge’s decision will have on Donald Sterling’s attempt to block the sale of the Clippers. Donald Sterling has a reputation for making outrageous statements which lead many to believe that he is mentally unstable. Regardless of whether the judge had granted Shelly Sterling’s request for a protective order, he continues to publicly alienate himself, making the NBA’s move to force the sale of the Clippers seem like a wise and necessary decision.
However, his statements could also be viewed as an abrupt, but understandable reaction to a no-win situation. He appears to be obviously frustrated at the prospect of losing his franchise, which only recently became successful. His hostility isn’t excusable, but it is explainable.
A court may issue a protective order whenever a threatened person can show grounds that his or her life would be danger absent the court’s intervention. That the judge felt that one was unnecessary at this point is a minor victory for Donald Sterling.
Yet, in the end, it may be insignificant.
This week, the same judge that declined to issue a protective order said in a probate hearing that he found a provision of the Sterling Family Trust “unambiguous” in allowing the removal of a trustee who has been declared incapacitated by two experts. 7
The judge said the provision in the trust was included expressly to allow disqualification of a trustee without having to go to court.
Unless Sterling is able to successfully challenge the medical opinion of two neurologists that he suffers from a form of dementia consistent with Alzheimer’s disease and is therefore incapacitated in his position as a co-trustee, the terms of the Sterling Family Trust indicate that Shelly Sterling is permitted to sell the Clippers with or without Donald Sterling’s approval.
Give Us Your Feedback
At Wallin and Klarich, we welcome feedback from both our readers and our clients. What do you think? Could Donald Sterling’s calls and voicemails have been reasonably seen as “death threats?” Should Shelly Sterling’s request for a protective order have been denied? Please share your thoughts.
1. [ESPN Los Angeles: “Donald Sterling left hostile messages”; http://espn.go.com/los-angeles/nba/story/_/id/11107980/threats-donald-sterling-lawyer-doctors-focus-wife-shelly-court-filing]↩
5. [CBS News: “Shelly Sterling lawyer alleges Clippers owner made death threat”; http://www.cbsnews.com/news/shelly-sterling-lawyer-alleges-clippers-owner-made-death-threat/]↩
7. [Los Angeles Times: “Judge expresses confidence Sterling family trust provision is legal”; http://www.latimes.com/sports/sportsnow/la-sp-sn-shelly-sterling-clippers-trust-20140623-story.html]↩