LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — A judge tentatively ruled Monday that Shelly Sterling acted properly in removing her estranged husband as a director of the family trust that owns the Los Angeles Clippers.
Judge Michael Levanas would also tentatively allow Shelly’s proposed $2 billion sale of the team to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, even if Donald files an appeal.
The ruling was handed down shortly before 3 p.m., nearly an hour after both sides wrapped up their statements in the Sterling vs. Sterling battle over the team.
It was a clear victory for Shelly Sterling, whose eyes filled with tears after the judge read his ruling: “I’m glad it’s over.”
Outside the courtroom, she said, “This is going to be a good thing for the city, for the league, for my family, for all of us. And I just want to thank you all. Come see the Clippers next year.”
Shelly’s attorney, Pierce O’Donnell, said L.A. owed his client a debt of gratitude: “We want to go forward understanding that it was one woman who stood up against her husband, who had the courage to go to court, and she prevailed. And, for the cynics out there, sometimes it works out OK. And this was a Hollywood ending.”
Donald’s attorney, Max Blecher, said outside court, “I’m deeply disappointed.”
Donald Sterling’s lawyers abruptly rested their case last week without calling his wife as a witness.
The 80-year-old claimed he was duped into exams by two medical experts who found him mentally incompetent.
The judge said he believes there is no evidence Shelly devised a secret plan to take the team from Donald, and that he believes she was legitimately concerned about her husband’s well-being when she tried to get him professional medical help.
Mike Bass, who heads communications for the NBA, had the following to say about the ruling: “We are pleased that the court has affirmed Shelly Sterling’s right to sell the Los Angeles Clippers to Steve Ballmer. We look forward to the transaction closing as soon as possible.”
L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti responded to the news by saying: “Clippers fans want the action to be on the court, not in the courtroom, and we hope to see a swift change in ownership and look forward to working in partnership with Steve Ballmer on building a stronger franchise and city.”
Ballmer’s attorney, Adam Streisand, said he texted the court’s decision to his client, who he said was very excited by the news. “He’s really, really excited about this team, about this city, and about bringing dignity back to the Clippers. And rolling up his sleeves and getting ready to run this team.”
Attorneys for Shelly have until 4 p.m. Tuesday to file a proposed “statement of decision,” and Donald Sterling’s side has 15 days to file an objection before the ruling can become final.
Donald’s attorneys could also file a special writ challenging Levanas’ decision to allow the sale without an appeal of his ruling. Sterling has also filed a separate lawsuit challenging Shelly Sterling’s right to sell the team based on corporate law.
He also has a civil-rights lawsuit pending in federal court against the NBA, claiming he was being railroaded out of the league in violation of his constitutional rights.
“He was very calm. He doesn’t see this as the final battleground. This is one stage of a long war, this is one battle. We had hoped for a different result, but this is not the end,” said attorney Bobby Samini, who’s also representing Donald Sterling.
The whole ordeal was triggered in April when phone conversations between Donald and companion V. Stiviano were leaked to TMZ. He’s heard lambasting the 31-year-old woman for having her picture taken with Magic Johnson and tells her not to bring anyone African-African to Clippers games.
The comments earned Sterling a lifetime ban from the NBA and set off moves to strip the Clippers from him. The league put those efforts on hold pending a decision on whether Shelly Sterling could sell the franchise.
Shelly Sterling said she looks forward to the day her husband can sit next to her at a Clippers game, cheering on the team they bought more than three decades ago, in the hands of a new owner.
“I think the ban will be lifted. There’s a new owner, a new sheriff in town, and it’s going to be good. It’s going to be good for the city, for the fans, for the leagues, for everybody. And that’s all we want,” she said.
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