Shortly before the start of a trial to determine whether Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling's estranged wife can sell the team, his lawyers filed a motion Thursday to move the case to federal court, alleging his medical privacy has been violated.
A probate court trial is scheduled to begin Monday to determine whether Sterling is mentally incapacitated and Shelly Sterling can assume control of the family trust that owns the Clippers. She struck a deal in May to sell the team to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer for $2 billion after Donald Sterling's racist remarks to a girlfriend were publicized and the NBA moved to oust him as an owner.
On Thursday, Donald Sterling's attorneys filed a notice of removal to federal court, saying the airing of his medical information in the probate case violates federal privacy laws. In previous filings, they argued that Donald Sterling submitted to examinations of his mental competence under false pretenses, that there was undue influence in the doctors' findings, and that the examination and letters about his capacity were defective and incomplete.
Shelly Sterling's attorney, Pierced O'Donnell, called the move a "cowardly ploy" and said allegations of federal privacy violations are "preposterous" because Sterling expressly authorized public release of his medical records under the terms of his family trust.
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"Donald Sterling's 11th-hour attempt to move the probate trial into the federal courts is a desperate act by a desperate man," O'Donnell said in a statement.
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Ballmer's attorney, Adam Streisand, also called the move "desperate" and said his side would seek to block it.
"We will be filing emergency relief in federal court to undo this last desperate and frivolous attempt to block our trial from going forward Monday," Streisand said in a statement.
Donald Sterling's attorney Bobby Samini denied the move was mere gamesmanship, saying "we feel strongly that this important issue should be addressed by the federal court at this time."
"While it has become popular to attack Donald Sterling for his regrettable comments, his right to privacy and to the protection of his medical records should not be acceptable collateral damage," Samini said in a statement.
It was not immediately clear when a federal judge might rule on the issue, but the trial in state probate court remained scheduled to start Monday morning.