Judge Rules Against Donald Sterling, Clearing Way for Clippers Sale

Image: Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, center, and his wife Shelly attend an NBA basketball game in 2008.

Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, center, and his wife Shelly attend an NBA basketball game in 2008. DANNY MOLOSHOK / Reuters file

A judge ruled Monday that Donald Sterling's estranged wife didn't defraud him when she struck a deal to sell the Los Angeles Clippers to former Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer, saying she was within her rights to seek a mental evaluation that allowed the $2 billion sale to go forward.

"I just tried to do the best thing for our family and for everybody else," an elated Shelly Sterling told NBC News outside the courthouse. "It's been very tough...and [Donald] and I do have love for each other and I hope it will all work out between us and everything will be good."

Shelly Sterling, who has been married to Donald for nearly 58 years, said she thinks her husband "will be happy," even though the judge gave her a sweeping victory, including taking the unusual step of ordering that the sale be allowed to be completed regardless of an appellate court’s intervention.

Although the judge issued a tentative oral order on Monday, all parties expect him to confirm it in writing by Aug. 13.

"We are pleased that the court has affirmed Shelly Sterling's right to sell the Los Angeles Clippers to Steve Ballmer," the NBA said in a statement. "We look forward to the transaction closing as soon as possible."


But after the trial ended, Max Blecher, an attorney for Donald Sterling, 80, said: "We're comfortable [that] if we get right to appeal this decision, it will not stand."

Whether Donald Sterling will appeal it, as he has threatened, is the question. When asked by NBC News if Donald Sterling will indeed be "happy" that the judge ruled in favor of his wife, Blecher said: "I’m gonna go there and find out. If he’s going to be happy with the outcome, then it will all be over, and you guys will have to find something else to do."

Gary Ruttenberg, another attorney for Donald Sterling added: "We have a client whom we think really wanted to hold on to something he’s had for 33 years It’s no secret he’s getting older. It’s no secret he has a mild cognitive impairment — and another medical problem — and that makes you more likely to hold onto things while you can. It’s going to be a grave disappointment but the question is what he does now. But that’s his question—not ours."

NBC Los Angeles: Judge Tentatively Rules in Favor of Shelly Sterling

Donald Sterling initially gave Shelly Sterling written authority to pursue a sale of the team, but he changed his mind after the NBA banned him and fined him for his offensive remarks, his lawyers said.

Blecher said in court that Shelly Sterling then turned to "Plan B" and tricked her husband into taking the mental exams that found he had signs of the onset of Alzheimer's disease. Donald Sterling, in turn, tried to stop the sale by dissolving the family trust in control of the team.

Pierce O'Donnell, Shelly Sterling's lawyer, argued that "doctors certified Donald as incapacitated, [so] that's the end of the matter."

In finding for Shelly Sterling, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Levana said: "In general, Shelly's testimony was more credible than Donald's. Donald can't complain that he was defrauded by Shelly to do something he was legally obligated to do anyway — to cooperate with the medical evaluations."

Shelly Sterling says she will continue to have owners' perks when Ballmer takes over and she hopes that she and Donald Sterling will attend Clippers games together.

"I think the ban will be lifted," she said. "It will be great for the city, the fans, the league and that’s all we want...I still feel part of it and I always will. They’re my children."

—M. Alex Johnson of NBC News contributed to this report.