LOS ANGELES – After a California judge on Monday issued a ruling in favor of Donald Sterling's estranged wife, potentially clearing the way to close a $2 billion sale of the Los Angeles Clippers, Shelly Sterling made a prediction about her husband.
"He'll be very happy,'' she said.
Moments later, one of her attorneys crowed, "This is a Hollywood ending.''
Turns out it's too early to roll the credits.
"His reaction was very calm,'' said Bobby Samini, one of Donald Sterling's attorneys. "Didn't see this as a final battleground. This is one stage of a long war. This is one battle. We had hoped for another result, but this is not the end.''
In fact, even as Shelly's attorneys were hailing judge Michael Levanas' ruling, they sounded less optimistic than Shelly about the chances of Donald standing down. She said he hoped he would drop two other lawsuits — one seeking $1 billion in damages from the NBA and another seeking to scuttle the sale of the team to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer by arguing the agreement violated corporate law.
The chances of that happening? Samini said Sterling gave no indication that he's ready to give up.
"He never met a lawsuit he didn't like,'' said Pierce O'Donnell, one of Shelly's attorneys. "We hope at this point that Donald realizes he can't run out the clock forever.''
But Adam Streisand, attorney for Ballmer, expressed little faith of that happening.
"We expect that we're going to continue to get grenades from all directions,'' he said.
The first will be lobbed in the same probate division where the case was heard. Shelly's attorneys must submit a "statement of decision'' detailing the rulings in Levanas' "oral tentative decision," which the judge read aloud from the bench.
In a sweeping victory for Shelly Sterling, Levanas ruled in her favor on every key point. The judge found that she followed provisions of the trust in having Donald ruled mentally incapacitated and removed as trustee of the family trust; that she had the authority to sell the team while acting as sole trustee; and that the potential financial harm the trust might suffer if the sale to Ballmer falls through warrants the sale proceed quickly, limiting Donald Sterling's ability to appeal.
Once the statement of decision is filed, Donald's attorneys have 10 days to file objections.
If he rejects the objections, Levanas can finalize the order — which Shelly's attorneys think she could have by Aug. 13, in time to meet Ballmer's Aug. 15 deadline for the sale.
But Donald's attorneys could promptly file a writ with the state court of appeals, challenging Levanas' ruling in favor of a 1310(b) order, a California statute that can be applied at the probate court's discretion that restricts Donald from appealing the ruling.
Meanwhile, Samini called attention to a recently file suit alleging Shelly and Ballmer violated corporate law because Donald is the sole shareholder of the LAC Basketball Club Inc. — and, as a result, must approve the sale.
"We think that's more important'' than the probate case, Samini said. "We've said this many times before, this is half the battle. It doesn't get them all the way home. This ruling was only as to the issues related to the trust.''
SCENES FROM THE STERLING TRIAL:
Max Blecher offered a sneak preview of the grounds on which Donald would appeal, criticizing the judge for the "quality of analysis.'' Blecher said evidence supported their contention that Sterling was the victim of a scheme orchestrated after his wife and her legal team met with NBA commissioner Adam Silver, and that the involvement of Shelly's attorneys with the doctors who ruled Donald mentally incapacitated tainted their conclusions.
He also challenged testimony that asserted the team would lose value if the sale falls through.
"This series of what I consider to be serious omissions from the analysis make the case vulnerable,'' Blecher said.
Shelly's attorneys expressed confidence that Levanas' ruling would withstand scrutiny.
Most pointedly, the judge rejected claims that Shelly had Donald evaluated for cognitive problems as part of a scheme to remove him from the trust and sell the team. Even if there was a scheme, Levanas said, he would not have thrown out testimony from the two doctors whose exams led to Donald being removed from the trust.
Levanas also made it clear who he thought was a more credible witness.
"(Shelly's) testimony was far and away more credible than Donald's,'' he said. "Donald's answers were often evasive and, in one instance, were inconsistent with his previous testimony.''
Donald moving forward with this legal fight would be no surprise the judge, who cited Donald's litigiousness as one reason the team could lose value of the sale falls through. He said other prospective owners could pay less if they fear becoming embroiled in yet another Sterling lawsuit.
The NBA has set a Sept. 15 deadline for the sale or it could move to strip the Sterlings' ownership and sell the team.
Standing outside the courthouse on Monday, none of that seemed to weigh on Shelly Sterling, who broke down in tears after the judge rendered his decision.
"I didn't know which way it was going to go,'' she said.
No one knows which way it's going to go next, only that it will keep going.