LOS ANGELES – The Sterling vs. Sterling case, which could determine the fate of the proposed $2 billion sale of the Los Angeles Clippers, is in limbo for the time being as the lawyers and probate judge Michael Levanas wait to see if a federal judge will take the case.
Levanas, acknowledging Donald Sterling's attempt to move the case to federal jurisdiction to determine whether his privacy rights were violated, told the lawyers at 9:20 a.m. PT Monday to be back in the courtroom at 11 a.m.
"We have a good cafeteria upstairs," Levanas said, causing the packed courtroom to erupt with laughter.
Shelly Sterling's lawyers filed an emergency application in federal court Sunday night opposing her husband's attempt to get their probate trial moved to federal jurisdiction.
Donald Sterling's lawyers filed a notice of removal late Thursday, the last day of court business before Monday's scheduled trial opening, essentially asking for a move to federal court.
No federal judge has been assigned to the case and no hearing is scheduled in federal court, according to the Sunday night filing.
But Shelly's lawyers are moving swiftly in an attempt to keep to the probate court schedule because of the impending July 15 sale deadline set in the Clippers' agreement between Shelly and former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.
Shelly's lawyers claim that Donald's lawyers are engaging in delay tactics to scuttle the sale and that there is no legal reason to move the case to federal jurisdiction.
The necessity of the Clippers' sale arises as a result of an audio tape the gossip site TMZ released of Donald Sterling making racist comments about African-Americans in a private conversation with his female companion, V. Stiviano. A few days later, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver condemned the comments, banned Sterling for life and said he would move to force a sale of the club.
Shelly in May removed Donald as a co-trustee of the Sterling Family Trust, which owns the Clippers, after two doctors found that he was mentally incapacitated.
Shelly then negotiated a sale of the Clippers to Ballmer and initiated the probate case -- because, without Donald's consent to the sale, she needs a court's authority to close the deal, according to the terms of her agreement with Ballmer.
"Donald is calculating that he can delay the Probate Court's ruling on Shelly's Petition long enough to jeopardize the Closing occurring before July 15," states the Sunday filing. "Without an immediate (ruling to keep the case in probate court), he may very well achieve his goal of patently misusing the removal process to achieve delay. This case cries out for a swift rebuke to Donald's cynical abuse of the judicial process.
"This is truly a case in which time is of the essence."
Bobby Samini, one of Sterling's lawyers, said Sunday night that the attempt to move to federal jurisdiction is not a case of seeking a delay.
"It was to exercise our client's right to have the matter heard in federal court," Samini said in an email to USA TODAY Sports. "As we have stated repeatedly, our client's (privacy rights of medical information) have been violated. These are important federal laws.
"It seems apparent that Shelly Sterling and her lawyers do not want those claims adjudicated in that a finding in our favor would be extremely problematic for them. We are surprised by their protest over recent filing considering that Shelly and her lawyers have filed at least two emergency motions in the probate court, both of which were denied. Apparently, they are the only party in this dispute who have a right to have their issues heard."
The deadline of the sales agreement can be moved to Aug. 15, according to the agreement between Shelly and Ballmer.
"Even assuming the closing date under the (sales agreement) is extended to August 15, 2014, the NBA owners do not have another scheduled meeting until October 2014, and Shelly has no ability to ensure that the owners will meet before that date to approve the sale such that (it) could close by August 15," the Sunday filing states.