Without Sterlings on hand, testimony opens in probate trial

Shelly and Donald Sterling are not in court for the start of a trial that could decide future of Clippers

As testimony finally started Monday afternoon in the probate court trial that could determine the future of the $2-billion sale of the Clippers, Donald and Shelly Sterling weren’t in Los Angeles Superior Court.

Pierce O’Donnell, Shelly Sterling’s attorney, called Donald Sterling as his first witness. Sterling wasn’t there. That didn’t stop O’Donnell from slowly scanning the courtroom for the owner, then suggesting that a bench warrant be issued to compel Sterling’s appearance.

Sterling, instead, will testify Tuesday afternoon.

“We will do our best to guarantee that happens,” Sterling attorney Bobby Samini told Judge Michael Levanas.

Meanwhile, Meril Sue Platzer, one of two doctors to examine Donald Sterling in May and declare him mentally incapacitated, testified over repeated objections from Sterling’s attorneys that Levanas overruled.

Gary Ruttenberg, part of Sterling’s legal team, claimed Plazter’s testimony violated doctor-patient privilege. Levanas didn’t agree, noting language in the Sterling Family Trust, through which the Sterlings own the Clippers, that allows the dissemination of medical information in certain situations.

Ruttenberg described the examinations that resulted in Sterling’s removal as a trustee to clear the way for Shelly Sterling to agree to sell the team to Steve Ballmer as “the fruit of a very poisonous tree.” The attorney alleged that they were part of a “secret plan B” to end Sterling’s ownership of the Clippers. O’Donnell, though, maintained the examinations were prompted by Shelly Sterling’s concern for her husband’s mental well-being.

“There’s no agenda on her part,” O’Donnell said.

When Plazter told Donald Sterling of the Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis, the doctor said he responded, “I’m hungry. I want to eat.” On the other side, Platzer testified that the diagnosis left Shelly Sterling “shocked” and “concerned.”

The trial is scheduled to resume at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Before the Clippers’ sale can be completed, Shelly Sterling needs her husband to sign off on the deal or for a court to rule that she acted appropriately in assuming control of the trust and negotiating the sale of the Clippers.

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