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December 20, 2014

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Clippers’ future on line as probate trial resumes

LOS ANGELES — The future of the Los Angeles Clippers is closer to decision as testimony resumes Monday in a probate trial over whether a deal negotiated by Donald Sterling's estranged wife to sell the team for $2 billion is authorized under a Sterling family trust.

Sterling, the volatile owner of the team, agreed to the sale but then tried to revoke consent in spite of a signed letter instructing his wife Shelly Sterling to sell for the highest price she could get.

A probate trial to resolve the matter has been underway since last month but was in recess for a week. With three days of hearings ahead, Donald Sterling's lawyers suggested they would call the battling couple back to the witness stand separately to address unanswered questions.

Superior Court Judge Michael Levanas was ambivalent about the need for more testimony from the pair but said he would permit it only if lawyers show that they are raising matters not covered during lengthy testimony by both Sterlings.

"This is a case that has many unusual twists and turns," said the judge, noting that Donald Sterling's lawyers had suddenly come up with "witnesses we've never heard of."

The judge firmly refused to allow Sterling's lawyers to call opposing counsel to testify. He also rejected a bid to strike the testimony and reports of two doctors who found the 80-year-old has Alzheimer's disease and is incapable of acting as administrator of the family trust that owned the Clippers.

The judge's rulings Friday shortened the list of witnesses planned by Sterling's lawyers and both sides were juggling schedules of other witnesses.

The lawyer for the man who wants to buy the Clippers, former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, stressed that time is running out on the contractual deadline for the sale which was supposed to be completed by Aug. 15. Attorney Adam Streisand urged the judge to make a quick decision once testimony ends, anticipating lengthy appeals if Shelly Sterling wins.

If the sale doesn't go through by Sept. 15, the NBA can seize the team and sell it at auction, Streisand said.

Donald Sterling has vowed he'll never sell the team and is suing to block his wife's single-handed deal to do so after the NBA banned him for life for making racist statements. He has denied he is a racist from the witness stand and claims he is the victim of illegally recorded conversations that invaded his privacy.

Outside court, Streisand said Donald Sterling's refusal to sell the team is "a suicide mission by a madman."

Attorney Bert Fields, who cross-examined Sterling, said he revealed himself as "a mean, nasty man who doesn't give a damn about his own family. For his ego, he's willing to give up benefits to his children and grandchildren from this sale."

Outside court, Donald Sterling's lawyer, Bobby Samini, echoed his client's wishes. "We're going to do everything in our power to stop the team from being sold," he said.

"It's not about his ego," Samini said. "He's made it clear he believes his privacy rights were violated and what the league did wasn't legal."

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