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Sterling to Face Trial on Mental Capacity

By Noah Gilbert and Scott Cacciola | The New York Times | June 11, 2014

LOS ANGELES — He did not know what season it was. He could not remember two objects after three minutes. He had difficulty drawing a clock.

A Los Angeles doctor described Donald Sterling, the embattled owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, as “unable to reasonably carry out the duties of trustee,” according to legal documents filed Wednesday by Sterling’s estranged wife, Rochelle.

Donald Sterling’s lawyers disputed that characterization, maintaining that “he has all of his capacities about him” and that he should not be stripped of his control of the Clippers.

A Los Angeles judge agreed to hold a trial to determine whether Donald Sterling is medically capable of serving as trustee of the Sterling family trust, which controls the Clippers. The decision will probably have consequences for the team and the N.B.A.

If the judge declares him unable to serve as trustee, then Rochelle Sterling will move forward with the deal to sell the team to Steve Ballmer, the former chief executive of Microsoft, for a record-setting $2 billion. If the judge declares him to be mentally sound, that would likely scuttle the Ballmer deal.

Judge Michael Levanas will begin hearing both sides’ arguments July 7.

Pierce O’Donnell, the lawyer representing Rochelle Sterling said: “Mr. Sterling signed the trust agreement with a provision that authorizes his removal if two licensed physicians certify that he lacks mental capacity. Three doctors have certified this; they are all experts.”

Documents submitted to the court show that Dr. Meril Sue Platzer examined Donald Sterling on May 19, about three weeks after a recording of him making racist statements was posted online. She found “an impairment of his level of attention, information processing, short-term memory impairment and ability to modulate mood.” She also found him to be “at risk of making potentially serious errors of judgment.”

His lawyers brushed off the reports and expressed confidence that Sterling, the longtime owner of the Clippers, would retain his role as trustee. “I think they have got a tough case to make saying he lacks capacity,” said Bobby Samini, Donald Sterling’s lawyer. “He’s very sharp.”

Sterling has repeatedly said that he refuses to sell the team. But N.B.A. Commissioner Adam Silver has said that he will force Sterling out of the league.

If the court rules in favor of Sterling, the N.B.A. would likely revert to its original plan of holding a hearing to terminate his ownership. The league would need a three-fourths majority of the league’s 30 team owners.

Donald Sterling, who was banned for life from the N.B.A. and fined $2.5 million, has a $1 billion lawsuit pending against the league. Rochelle Sterling has agreed to indemnify the league against his legal actions, which would mean that Donald Sterling would in effect be suing himself.

Ballmer’s lawyer said Ballmer was prepared to walk away from the Clippers if Donald Sterling tried to block the deal.

“Mr. Ballmer is not going to stick around for years for this to wind through the courts,” the lawyer, Adam Streisand, said. “The N.B.A. has made it very clear that it will take over the team, and that’s a consequence that’s not going to benefit the Sterling family or the trust.”

Read the full article here, and more about CLBB’s work on Elder Capacity here.