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September 16, 2014

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Lawyer: Wife plotted to take over Sterling trust

LOS ANGELES — A lawyer argued Monday that the estranged wife of Donald Sterling plotted to strip his client from the family trust that owned the Los Angeles Clippers after the head of the NBA said she couldn't negotiate a sale of the franchise unless she owned all the shares.

"That's the beginning of the plan to get rid of Mr. Sterling," attorney Maxwell Blecher, who referred to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver as a co-conspirator, said during his closing argument in the case. "Pure and simple, it was an invidious scheme to strip Donald Sterling as co-trustee so he couldn't block the sale of the Clippers."

Blecher made his claims at the trial to determine whether Shelly Sterling can sell the Clippers to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer for $2 billion. A ruling was expected later in the day.

The arguments followed several weeks of testimony involving Shelly Sterling's removal of her husband from the family trust when two doctors found he had Alzheimer's disease and couldn't manage his affairs.

Donald Sterling claims his wife deceived him about the medical exams.

"There's no evidence, I'll repeat that as loudly as you allow," Blecher said, his voice rising, "there's no evidence that Mr. Sterling was incapable of carrying out his duties as a co-trustee."

The case arose after the 80-year-old billionaire was banned by the NBA for making offensive remarks about blacks in a conversation with a girlfriend that was recorded and leaked to the news media.

With the NBA poised to take the team, Sterling agreed to let his wife negotiate a sale but then refused to sign the deal.

Shelly Sterling was in court for the closing arguments; Donald Sterling was not.

Shelly Sterling's lawyer, Pierce O'Donnell, ridiculed the notion that Donald Sterling showed his mind was clear when he testified at the trial, saying it made him wonder if his lawyers had attended another trial.

Sterling spent much of his time on the witness stand shouting at attorneys for both sides, expressing his outrage at the NBA and its commissioner for trying to oust him from the league over the recordings.

He testified that he loved his wife, then called her a pig and a liar the following day.

O'Donnell said Blecher's argument was aimed at the media more than the court. He said Shelly Sterling was acting in the interest of the family trust and her husband when she properly removed him as a trustee.

"We're here only because he refused to abide by the removal and revoked the trust," O'Donnell said. "Do not let Donald profit from his breach of that agreement. ... If not, then Donald gets a second bite of the apple."

O'Donnell also said that Sterling initially urged his wife to sell the team because he feared the NBA would take it.

He then changed his mind and dissolved the trust — a move his lawyers say ended the deal with Ballmer.

"He used her as a pawn," O'Donnell said. "Donald Sterling flip-flopped like a fish out of water."

Lawyers for Shelley Sterling have urged the judge to allow the sale to go forward so a contract can be in place before NBA owners meet on Aug. 15.

Lawyers spent the better part of a month questioning witnesses at the trial.

Last week, Shelly Sterling's lawyers along with an attorney for Ballmer filed a voluminous legal brief citing case law that they say proves that Donald Sterling did not have the right to dissolve the trust that owned the Clippers.

"The trust has a golden bird in the hand," the brief said. "A sale of the Clippers for $2 billion is indisputably a bonanza for the Sterling family. Donald's strident opposition is motivated by only selfish considerations. This court has the power to make this precedent-setting sale happen."

Donald Sterling has filed a separate lawsuit in state court against Shelly Sterling, Silver and the NBA.

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