Donald and Shelly Sterling, the long-separated married couple whose peaceful partnership atop the Los Angeles Clippers is described by one person close to them as "a strange estrangement," will face off as official foes for the first time Wednesday when their lawyers appear in court with the team they share and a $2 billion deal hanging on the outcome.
An attorney will ask a probate court judge in Los Angeles to confirm Shelly Sterling's authority to sell the Clippers against the will of her husband, according to a person familiar with the matter not authorized to speak publicly and speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Donald Sterling said in a statement Tuesday that he's not just fighting for the Clippers but taking a stand against the NBA, which he called "a band of hypocrites and bullies" and "despicable monsters" who want "to take away our privacy rights and freedom of speech."
Donald Sterling is suing the league for $1 billion. The league has sought to ban him for life since racist remarks emerged in a recording in April.
Shelly Sterling brokered what would be a record-breaking $2 billion deal with former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer to sell the team less than two weeks ago.
She contends she is the sole trustee of The Sterling Family Trust, which owns the team. Donald Sterling was stripped as co-trustee after two neurologists last month determined he has dementia and is "mentally incapacitated" under the trust's conditions, according to a person who is familiar with the trust and the medical evaluations but could not speak publicly.
The aim of Shelly Sterling's court bid is to have a judge confirm provisions of the family trust to ensure the Ballmer sale moves forward without a hitch. Donald Sterling has the right to present his side at any hearing and appeal any decision.
His attorney Maxwell Blecher said a representative for Donald Sterling will be at the hearing, and that the main issue to be decided is whether Donald Sterling is mentally competent.
"There isn't the slightest evidence he's incapable of managing his affairs," Blecher said. He said the next step is to have other doctors evaluate Sterling.
"I have no doubt at the end of the day the court is not going to say he's incompetent. That's a very high burden in the probate court — otherwise people would get their sisters and wife and brother-in-laws and everybody declared incompetent."
Though both Sterlings will have their own attorneys at the hearing Wednesday and they live apart, the couple remain "chummy," Blecher said.
"It's what I describe to people as a strange estrangement, they don't seem at all hostile to each other, and he's very solicitous of her," Blecher said. "They've been married 58 years. Each threatens the other one they're going to get a divorce but they never did and never have."
Tami Abdollah can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/latams