LOS ANGELES — A feisty Donald Sterling testified he was duped into taking two mental health exams that he said his wife used to try and strip him of ownership of the Los Angeles Clippers.
Sterling displayed a wide range of emotions in court Tuesday, repeatedly clashing with veteran Hollywood lawyer for the stars, Bert Fields. But then other times he seemed on the verge of tears when talking about the NBA, saying “they are not good people.”
But the 80-year-old billionaire Sterling was most interested in sparring with the 85-year-old Fields, the lawyer for his estranged wife Shelly Sterling, who is seeking the authority to sell the National Basketball Association team.
“I thought you were going to make me cry. Isn’t that what you said in the paper?” Sterling told Fields.
Sterling insists he doesn’t want to sell the team because of “economic reasons,” claiming he could get up to $5 billion in a sale for the team he has owned since 1981 and predicted an antitrust suit he launched against the NBA would net him $9 billion.
The main issue the court must determine is whether Shelly Sterling properly removed her husband as a trustee of the family foundation that controls the Clippers. Shelly Sterling arranged for two medical exams that led to the determination that Donald Sterling was unfit to administer the trust.
The trial in Los Angeles Superior Court is expected to continue at least through Thursday, with Judge Michael Levanas to rule on whether the incapacity finding was properly reached.
Donald Sterling is seeking to halt the sale, arguing that his privacy rights were violated by the release of his medical records and that one of the two neurologists he saw was too drunk to have conducted a proper exam.
Levanas also must decide whether Sterling’s revocation of the trust on June 9 effectively cancels out Shelly Sterling’s record $2 billion sale of the team to former Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer.
Hollywood soap opera
It all adds up to a pro-sports family spectacle that reads like a Hollywood soap opera script.
After being a no-show on the first day, Donald Sterling entered the downtown Los Angeles courtroom around 2:30 p.m., wearing a dark suit with sunglasses on and took a seat in the aisle close to Shelly Sterling. During the next break in court he spoke briefly with his wife.
A combative Sterling criticized the doctors who found him to be suffering from Alzheimer’s, saying their findings could be used as a way for Shelly Sterling to sell the team without his approval.
One doctor, he claimed, sat so close to him “I couldn’t even breathe” and the other was “intoxicated.”
He also said it was “ludicrous to think” Shelly Sterling could managed their five corporations with “millions in liabilities.” Then he said of his wife — who sat across the aisle — she is “beautiful.”
Sterling said he had his own doctor do an exam and was deemed to be “razor sharp.”
Throughout the afternoon, Sterling repeatedly sparred with Fields, who has represented Hollywood legends Tom Cruise and Warren Beatty and the late Michael Jackson.
He castigated Fields about his questions, saying they were unimportant and unnecessary. Sterling became more agitated when asked about some financial loans.
“What do my bank loans have to do with this weird lawyer?” Sterling said.
Another time when Sterling told Fields, “You’re wrong. You’ve been wrong on every question today,” Levanas then asked Sterling “how can he be wrong if he is just asking a question?”
Fields said that Sterling’s combative and sometimes bizarre testimony reinforced the doctors’ findings.
“Now you all know what Donald Sterling is. You all heard this guy in the courtroom. His responses to questions,” Fields said.
“There was no question that she (Dr. Meril Platzer) made a medical examination … He said she was just drunk and she was just sitting there in the room and she didn’t do any examination. That is what this guy said.”
‘Done a lot of despicable things’
Adam Streisand, lawyer for Ballmer, also spoke outside the court, saying Sterling lacks capacity and proved the doctors were correct in their conclusions.
“Donald Sterling has done a lot of despicable things. Today was sad by any measure,” Streisand said. “You can’t help but feel a little sad and sympathy for the man because clearly he is not working with all his faculties.”
Sterling was banned from the NBA for life earlier this year following the release of recorded conversations between him and his girlfriend V. Stiviano. Sterling is heard on the tape making bigoted comments, criticizing Stiviano for having her picture taken with black people.
The league announced plans to take action against Sterling to force him to sell the team. But Sterling has since filed a lawsuit against the NBA, alleging violations of his civil rights.
He says that he was recorded illegally while making emotional remarks during a disagreement with Stiviano.