LOS ANGELES -- Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling threatened to "take out" a lawyer representing his wife and left voicemail messages excoriating two doctors who declared him mentally incapacitated, according to records filed Thursday in a Los Angeles court.
Attorneys for Shelly Sterling claimed the phone calls were so menacing that her husband should be ordered to stop contacting the psychiatrists and her lawyer. Superior Court Judge Michael Levanas denied that request.
Instead, he asked both sides in the emotional dispute over ownership of the pro basketball team to tone down their communications prior to a probate hearing. Donald Sterling's representatives described his outbursts as a natural consequence of unfair actions by the NBA and his wife to force the sale of the Clippers. Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer came to an agreement with Shelly Sterling in May to buy the team for a record $2 billion.
Shelly Sterling this month sought an order from probate court to validate her action taking control of the family trust to sell the Clippers. The hearing is set to start July 7.
Shelly Sterling's lawyers described the recent phone calls as proof that Donald Sterling is too volatile to conduct his own business affairs, including control of the team he has owned since 1981.
The communications that were the subject of Thursday's court action occurred June 9.
After Shelly Sterling, 79, had reached a deal to sell the Clippers, Donald Sterling, 80, said through one of his lawyers on June 4 that he would go along with the sale. But he became infuriated when he learned the NBA would not drop the $2.5 million fine and lifetime ban imposed on him after racially inflammatory comments he made about blacks became public.
Five days later, Sterling issued a statement saying his right to privacy and due process had been violated following the release of a recording in which he told companion V. Stiviano not to come to Clippers games with black people. "I intend to fight to keep the team," Sterling's statement said.
On that same day, records filed Thursday showed, Sterling called his wife's attorney, Pierce O'Donnell. In remarks laced with obscenities, Sterling pledged to divorce his wife and "sue everyone," O'Donnell said in an affidavit.
"He said he did not care about the money it cost or what the claim would be, but that he was going to spend whatever money he has to litigate just to make my life miserable," O'Donnell said. "Mr. Sterling then shouted even louder, and said in a menacing tone, 'I am going to take you out, O'Donnell!' "
Later that day, Sterling called two psychiatrists who had seen him in May and filed reports saying they believed he had early signs of Alzheimer's disease or another brain malady, according to court documents. Dr. Meril S. Platzer and Dr. J. Edward Spar said they believed the real estate mogul was no longer capable of conducting normal business.
In the first call, according to a recording of a voicemail filed in court, Sterling accused Platzer of improperly finding him incompetent and helping those who wanted to take away his rights.
He told Platzer: "You're nothing but a fraud and a liar and a cheat and I'm gonna see that you lose your license and I'm suing you for conspiracy."
Three minutes later, Sterling called Spar and left a message berating the doctor for allegedly giving his mental health records to his wife's attorneys.
"I'm so angry," Sterling said. "I just can't believe it." He added he was going to get Spar fired from his post at UCLA.
Shelly Sterling invoked the two doctors' reports May 29, when she asserted herself as the sole trustee of the Sterling Family Trust, which owns the Clippers. That night, she signed the sales agreement with Ballmer.
Shelly Sterling's lawyers cited the phone calls and letters written by Sterling attorney Bobby Samini to the two psychiatrists -- accusing them of "conspiracy" and improperly releasing medical records -- as proof that Donald Sterling was trying to intimidate witnesses in the upcoming probate hearing.
Attorney O'Donnell said he believed Sterling was threatening his life when he said he would "take you out."
Donald Sterling's lawyers said that their client's words had been overblown.
"I don't think Mr. Sterling is going to kill anybody or harm anybody. He's got a short fuse," said attorney Max Blecher. Samini, who sat beside Sterling during the phone conversation with O'Donnell, said he didn't hear his client make any threats.
Blecher said Sterling's reactions make sense, given the harsh punishment heaped on him by the NBA.
"And they are taking his team away from him. And you have to think: Is this the right result in the United States?" Blecher said.
Levanas said in a brief written order it came as no surprise the Sterling case involved "high emotions and some litigation posturing." However, the judge said there was no need for an injunction, as he did not find either side would suffer "great and irreparable injury."
Still, he said the Sterling phone calls could become evidence in the July hearing.
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