A California judge ruled on Monday that the record $2 billion sale of the Los Angeles Clippers to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer can move forward, siding in favor of Shelly Sterling on all three counts in a probate court trial against Donald Sterling.
Donald Sterling’s estranged wife, Shelly, burst into tears when the ruling was announced.
“I can’t believe it’s over. I feel good,” she said.
In the tentative ruling, Superior Court Judge Michael Levanas handed down an “oral tentative statement decision” that affirmed Shelly Sterling had the authority to reach an agreement in May to sell the team to Ballmer. The ruling included the step of granting Shelly Sterling’s request for an order under section 1310(b) of California’s probate code, allowing the sale to be completed even if Donald Sterling continues the battle through the appellate court.
Levanas made the announcement shortly after two hours of closing arguments between lawyers, and sided with the position from interim Clippers chief executive Richard Parsons that a continued ownership by Donald Sterling would result in a “death spiral” for the franchise.
“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.”
Shelly Sterling negotiated the sale of the team after her 80-year-old billionaire husband was banned for life by the NBA for making racist remarks.
Ballmer had set an Aug. 15 deadline to complete the deal, and NBA commissioner Adam Silver said the league would move to strip the Sterlings’ ownership of the Clippers if the sale is not complete by Sept. 15.
The judge said he would review objections before issuing a written ruling.
“(Shelly Sterling’s) testimony was far and away more credible than Donald,” Levanas said, according to USA Today. “Donald’s answers were often evasive and, in one instance, were inconsistent with his previous testimony.”
Levanas said the evidence showed that Shelly Sterling followed provisions of the Sterling Family Trust in having Donald Sterling examined by two doctors, who both found he was mentally incapacitated, and subsequently removed as co-trustee.
Donald Sterling has two other suits pending in the matter. In one, he contends his wife and Ballmer violated corporate law, and the other seeks more than $1 billion in damages from the NBA.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver banned Donald Sterling from the league for life and fined him $2.5 million in April after an audio recording of racist comments by Sterling were leaked to TMZ.com.