By Eric Kelsey
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Shelly Sterling will seek an emergency court order confirming her as owner of the Los Angeles Clippers in a bid to block her estranged husband from having any say in the team’s $2 billion sale, a source with knowledge of the matter said on Tuesday.
Donald Sterling, 80, was banned for life by the National Basketball Association in April and fined $2.5 million after a leaked tape of him making racist remarks to a girlfriend prompted an outcry from fans, players and sponsors of the team.
The league has tentatively approved a deal by Shelly Sterling, co-owner of the franchise, to sell the club for $2 billion to Steve Ballmer, the former Microsoft Corp chief executive.
At one point, Sterling said he supported the move, but he declared late on Monday the Clippers were not for sale, and that while he realized it might be unpopular, he would fight to keep the club he built over 33 years.
Sterling’s lawyer, Maxwell Blecher, said on Tuesday he expected his client would eventually challenge the clause in the family trust that gave his wife control of the team when doctors deemed Sterling incapable of managing normal business affairs.
Last month, two neurologists found Sterling to have Alzheimer’s disease, which triggered the clause handing control of the family trust that owns the team to Shelly Sterling.
According to the clause, Donald Sterling would not have standing to block the sale. The deal has been tentatively approved by the league, but must be voted on by owners.
David Cornwell, a sports lawyer with law firm Gordon Rees Scully Mansukhani, said that while Sterling’s lawsuit did not hold much legal weight, it could cause Ballmer to have second thoughts about the sale.
“I don’t know if I’d go through with it at this point,” said Cornwell. “Two billion dollars is quite a bit to put on the line to have it subject to the whim of a district court judge.”
Representatives of the Clippers had no comment on Sterling’s latest comments, in which he apologized for his remarks but said he never wanted to sell the team and that the NBA had acted against him illegally and in haste.
The NBA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Sterling has sued the league and its commissioner, Adam Silver, for at least $1 billion in damages, alleging they relied on evidence inadmissible in a California court to oust him.
Silver says Sterling’s lawsuit against the league is the only obstacle to the sale of the Clippers.
Marshall Grossman, a lawyer who represented the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team in its ownership battle between Frank McCourt and his ex-wife, Jamie McCourt, said if it was true that Sterling was not mentally competent, there could be a petition filed for a court-appointed conservator to take over and represent his interests.
“He should take the money and exit gracefully,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Casey Sullivan and Edith Honan in New York; Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Peter Cooney)