Probate Judge Approves Sale of the Los Angeles Clippers

A probate judge rejected Donald Sterling's claims that his estranged wife Shelly Sterling conspired with her attorney's to remove him from a family trust that owned the Los Angeles Clippers. This move allowed former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer to buy the team for $2 billion.

Probate Court Issues Surrounding the Sale

After racial comments made by Sterling caused controversy, pressure mounted on him to sell the Clippers. Sterling was banned for life by the National Basketball Association. Soon after, he faced a court battle with his estranged wife over the couple's trust. The Clippers were owned through this trust.

The wife claimed that Sterling had early onset Alzheimer's or another form of dementia. This means that was deemed mentally unfit to oversee the trust and that Shelly's agreement with Ballmer to buy the team was legitimate.

Shelly Sterling was also given prior written permission by Donald Sterling to negotiate a sale of the Clippers with a buyer, validating her claim to the sale. Sterling argued that Shelly was only authorized to negotiate a sale, not to finalize a sale with a buyer.

A California probate court deemed that Shelly Sterling had the authority to sell the Clippers on behalf of the Sterling Family Trust. Donald Sterling had petitioned an appeals court on this ruling. Since the Sterling Family Trust had already received the $2 billion from the sale, the petition was not valid.

How Probate Code Section 1310(b) Was Used

The lawyers arguing on behalf of Shelly Sterling and Steve Ballmer used a provision in probate court that is so rarely used that it was unexpected by several parties. This provision, known as Section 1310(b), allows a probate court to grant permission to a trustee to carry out a transaction if waiting for the appeal to a higher court would cause irreparable injury or loss.

The loss used in court to validate this provision would be the loss of:

  • Numerous Clippers players
  • Clipper coach, Doc Rivers
  • Financial sponsors

In the face of this loss, the Sterling trust would lose an immense amount of money. The judge invoked the provision, which prevented the appeal attempting to suspend the actions of the trust and allowed Ballmer to officially buy the Clippers.