Clippers ownership trial set to begin

Updated: July 7, 2014, 1:08 PM ET
By Ramona Shelburne | ESPN.com

There remains some question whether a trial to decide the fate of the Los Angeles Clippers will begin on time after owner Donald Sterling filed a motion to have the case moved to federal court instead of the Los Angeles probate court, where a four-day trial was set to begin on Monday.

Lawyers for Shelly Sterling and Steve Ballmer, the former Microsoft CEO who agreed to buy the franchise for a record $2 billion on May 29, both filed emergency briefs Sunday night with the federal court to kick the case back to probate court so Monday's bench trial before Judge Michael Levanas can proceed as scheduled.

Shelly Sterling's attorneys also contend that finishing the deal is part of "winding down" the trust's affairs and that she has an obligation to close or Ballmer will sue.

Donald Sterling's attorneys argue that the probate court now lacks jurisdiction and that winding down affairs refers to passive actions, not a sale that markedly changes the assets in the trust and its value.

Shelly Sterling's attorney, Pierce O'Donnell, said Donald Sterling's action to have the trial removed from probate court is an "11th-hour attempt to move the probate trial into the federal courts" and "a desperate act by a desperate man."

Donald Sterling's attorney, Bobby Samini, told ESPN Sunday night that his side plans to show up in court for the trial as scheduled, in case a federal judge denied their motion. However, he said Donald, who had been scheduled to testify as a witness, will most likely not be present.

"It's not a delay tactic," Samini said. "We have [a] very important federal issue here that should be addressed."

Samini alleges that Donald Sterling's right to privacy was violated under the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) laws when his medical records were released to the probate court last month. Those court records were then obtained from the court by media outlets.

The medical records specifically dealt with the reports of two neurologists who found that Donald was mentally incapacitated and not able to handle his legal and business affairs. That gave Shelly the authority to act as the sole trustee of the family trust, which owned the Clippers, and subsequently sell the Clippers to Ballmer.

"If we can demonstrate that Donald's rights were violated under HIPAA and HITECH, then those doctors reports are out the window," Samini said.

The attorney's in the case agreed last week that the trial will not cover Sterling's mental capacity, but rather whether Shelly accurately followed the provisions of the trust to remove him as a trustee, and whether she has a fiduciary responsibility to complete the sale to Ballmer, after Donald Sterling revoked the trust on June 9.

Ballmer's attorney, Adam Streisand, called Sterling's motion a "last desperate and frivolous attempt to block our trial from going forward" and filed an emergency petition to have the motion dismissed and the case remanded back to probate court as scheduled.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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