LOS ANGELES -- Saying that Donald Sterling's privacy rights have been "ignored and trampled," a lawyer for the Clippers owner said Thursday he would ask a federal court judge to prevent Sterling's wife from using records about his mental capacity to strip away his control of the team.
The surprise action to move the contentious fight between Donald and Shelly Sterling to federal court could delay a hearing Monday in which a Los Angeles probate judge is scheduled to hear evidence about whether Shelly properly invoked an incapacity clause in a family trust to take control of the NBA team.
While Sterling's lawyers presented their latest action as a bid to preserve his rights, his wife's lead lawyer called the gambit "a desperate act by a desperate man"--designed to kill her $2 billion sale of the Clippers to former Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer.
The two sides had reached a rare agreement this week, when they set the parameters of the probate hearing. They concurred that it would focus not on Sterling's mental capacity, but instead on whether two doctors who examined him in May followed good-faith procedures outlined in the Sterling Family Trust. The lawyers also prepared to argue whether the law allows Donald Sterling to block his wife's sale of the Clippers with his June 9 exit from the family trust.
Donald Sterling attorney Bobby Samini said Thursday that his client wants a federal judge to find that two U.S. laws governing medical privacy were violated when records of the examinations by Dr. Meril Platzer and Dr. James Spar became public.
"Our contention is that the release of medical records and the dissemination of the records is in violation of two federal laws," Samini said. He added that he believes that Shelly Sterling's probate action to validate her takeover of the family trust--and thus the sale of the Clippers--can't proceed using the medical records.
"While it has become popular to attack Donald Sterling for his regrettable comments, his right to privacy and to the protection of his medical records should not be acceptable collateral damage," Samini said in a statement, referring to recorded remarks in which Sterling told a companion not to bring blacks to Clippers games.
Shelly Sterling sold the team on May 29 to Ballmer. His attorney, Adam Streisand, issued a statement Thursday afternoon saying Ballmer would seek emergency relief in the U.S. court "to undo this last desperate and frivolous attempt to block our trial from going forward Monday." Shelly Sterling's attorney, Pierce O'Donnell, offered an even sharper assessment: "This latest bad-faith maneuver on the eve of his reckoning is a cowardly ploy to do just one thing: Kill a record-setting $2 billion sale of the Clippers."
Both of the lawyers said that Sterling knew he had authorized the release of medical records when he signed the family trust. Streisand said the law also requires that probate matters be determined in state, not federal, court. Finally, he argued, Sterling waived his opportunity to send the matter to federal court when he and his lawyers offered responses in state court without seeking a shift to the federal courts.
"I think the federal court is going to bounce this attempt and bounce it fast," Streisand said. "It could cause a short delay. But it also tells us ... the level of confidence Donald Sterling's people have in their case."
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