The response comes as NBA owners are preparing to meet on June 3rd to vote on whether to force Sterling to sell the Clippers.
Legally, Sterling's answer seems to raise even more questions about the circumstances surrounding his potential ouster.
Does Sterling Still Own the Team?
Although he has been officially suspended for life from taking part in any team business or even attending games, Sterling still legally owns the Clippers franchise pending the June 3rd vote. According to Sports Illustrated, unless 22 of the 29 NBA owners vote to force Sterling to sell, he will remain the team's owner despite the lifetime ban. As shown by his response, Sterling plans on fighting both the ban and any potential sale. Claims of his wife's legal control of the team notwithstanding, Sterling has reportedly been offered as much as $2.5 billion for the team, which he bought for $12 million in 1981.
Is the Recording of Him Making Racist Remarks Admissible in Court?
The NBA's beef with Sterling began when a recording of Sterling making racist remarks was leaked to the media. In his response, Sterling argues that these recordings were made without his knowledge and are therefore illegal under California law. While true that these recordings would likely not be admissible in a California court, unfortunately for Sterling, the NBA hearing at which his continued ownership will be determined is governed by the NBA constitution, not the California constitution. The recording will likely be used as evidence against Sterling at the June 3rd hearing.
Does the NBA Owe Sterling a Fair trial?
Sterling's also contends that several of the voting NBA owners have already voiced their agreement with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver that Sterling be sent packing -- preventing Sterling from getting a fair hearing. But just as with the secret recording, as a private group, the NBA is not bound to the same due process rules as a court of law. As Sport's Illustrated's legal analyst Michael McCann points out: "NBA owners are not supposed to be jurors... they are fellow owners always judging each other's conduct."
Although the NBA owners are set to meet June 3rd to decide the issue, it's likely that the legal wrangling surrounding Sterling and the Clippers will continue for some time.
- Donald Sterling, Free Speech, and Other Things People Don't Get (FindLaw's Cal Case Law Blog)
- Racist Comments at Work: What Can Employers Do? (FindLaw's Free Enterprise)
- Friday Forum: Can You Find a Way for the NBA to Boot Sterling? (FindLaw's Courtside)
- Is It Legal to Record Phone Conversations? (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)