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NBA: Sterling trial hears its final testimony

July 24, 2014 - 5:03am

LOS ANGELES—A dementia expert raised questions about whether two doctors properly conducted mental exams that found longtime Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling mentally incapacitated as testimony concluded Wednesday in the trial to determine whether Shelly Sterling acted properly when she sold the team in May without her husband’s consent.

Dr. Jeffrey Cummings, a Las Vegas-based authority on geriatric psychiatry, told Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Michael Levanas that he would not have allowed Shelly Sterling to sit in on Donald’s mental competency exams and would have given the patient more information, but not too much, on possible outcomes if he failed.

But Cummings’ finding that Donald Sterling suffered only mild cognitive impairment was not admitted into evidence, because of an agreement of both sides that the trial would not be a “battle of the experts” into Sterling’s mental status.

Some of Cummings’ testimony helped Shelly Sterling by rejecting the contention that Donald should have been told that failing the examinations could lead to his being removed as a trustee of the family trust that controlled the Clippers.

Informing Sterling of possible trust implications could have stressed him and caused him to perform poorly, Cummings said. “That is not a relationship I would establish,” Cummings testified.

The psychiatrist also said that Shelly Sterling’s presence during the exams was not standard procedure and may have added stress and compromised Donald’s performance. Cummings also said, though, that he had no independent information about the couple’s relationship and was not aware that Donald Sterling had invited his wife to sit with him as the doctors questioned him at his Beverly Hills home.

Cummings’ statements seemed unlikely, alone, to persuade Levanas to discount the findings of two other experts — Dr. Meril Platzer and Dr. James Spar — who examined Sterling in May and reported that he was showing symptoms of being in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. The neurologist and geriatric psychiatrist both found Sterling unfit to continue as a trustee of the family trust.

Shelly Sterling used that medical finding to take control of the trust and the Clippers, signing a deal to sell the team on May 29 to former Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer for a record $2 billion. With Donald Sterling continuing to fight the deal, his wife needs court approval to complete the transaction.

The case is scheduled to wind up Monday with closing arguments. Levanas has been asked to rule before an Aug. 15 deadline that Shelly Sterling and Ballmer set to complete the transaction. The NBA has said it will move to seize the team and hold its own auction if the deal is not done by Sept. 15.