The specter of a player boycott if Donald Sterling were still to be the owner of the Clippers by the start of the 2014-15 season appears to have been dispelled. Judge Michael Levanas issued a sweeping oral ruling in favor of Shelley Stirling which would allow the proposed $2 billion sale of the team to Steve Ballmer to go through.
Shelley’s victory on the merits is not terribly unexpected. Donald’s reported histrionics as well as those of his attorney Max Blecher probably didn’t impress Levanas overly much. The Judge was well within his discretion to find the testimony of Shelley’s medical witnesses more credible than those of Donald and thus rule that control of the Sterling Family Trust (the technical owner of the team) passed to Shelley.
The part of the ruling which was eye-opening was Levanas’ decision to invoke section 1310(b) of California Probate Code. This provision permits (but does not require) the court to allow Shelley Sterling the right to dispose of trust property, regardless of any pending appeal of the initial ruling. Essentially this means Shelley is free to sell the Clippers to Ballmer, and even if Donald were to reverse the decision on appeal, the sale would be not be disturbed under section 1311.
Though Donald Sterling has other court cases against the NBA, Shelley and Ballmer percolating, this ruling is a severe blow to Donald’s ability to delay the eventual sale of the team. Far more common in a dispute over a sale of an asset of the value and complexity of an NBA team would be for any sale proceedings to be enjoined until the resolution of an appeal. The preclusion of any such injunction dramatically alters the time frame for resolution of the issue of the sale of the team, even if suits between the Sterlings, the NBA and various other parts may linger for years as they wander through the California and federal court systems.
The invocation of section 1310(b) was described as “unusual” and “extraordinary” by Nathan Fenno of the Los Angeles Times. Levanas based that portion of the ruling on testimony such as that from Clippers’ interim CEO Richard Parsons who claimed the team would enter a “death spiral” if Donald Sterling were allowed to remain in charge. It is not known to what extent the threat of a boycott from Paul and other Clippers affected or influenced the judge’s decision.