What Donald Sterling Taught Me About Divorce Law

Unless you've been under a rock for the past week, you probably have heard of a TMZ report wherein Donald Sterling, owner of the NBA's Los Angeles Clippers, allegedly told his mistress not to "promote" black people by bringing them to his games. The foregoing comments then created a firestorm of indignation from the public at large, with everyone from Magic Johnson, to Michael Jordan, to even President Obama expressing outrage.

However, as ESPN columnist J.A. Adande aptly noted, his only surprise regarding Sterling's comments is how surprised the general public seems to be by them. After all, Sterling is the same person who had to pay nearly $3 million to settle a federal housing discrimination lawsuit wherein he was accused of refusing to rent his properties to black or Latino tenants. He once tried to celebrate Black History Month in March by tacitly implying that "underprivileged kids" are synonymous with black ones. He allegedly used to bring women into his players' locker room so they could marvel at "those beautiful black bodies."

Some might argue that an owner of a team in a "black sport" like the NBA, cannot possibly be racist. After all, he makes black people millionaires, and he gives them "food, and cars, and clothes, and houses," so how can he be racist? Well if anything, I suppose he's a traditionalist: Donald Sterling certainly isn't the first person to take pride in his ownership of black athletes.

However, as much as I could rail on ad infinitum about Sterling, at its core his story, like many others, has a distinct family law bent. Notably, much of the untold story of the Sterling controversy involves a wife who is trying to recover alleged community property from a mistress. Indeed on March 7, 2014, Sterling's estranged wife Rochelle filed a lawsuit against Sterling's ostensible mistress for the recovery of, amongst other things, a $1.8 million Los Angeles duplex, a Ferrari, two Bentleys and a Range Rover. V Stiviano, Sterling's purported mistress, then filed a motion to dismiss the Complaint on April 21, 2014. Conveniently, less than a week later, tmz.com published the foregoing live audio recordings allegedly between Stiviano and Sterling.

I once had a lawyer tell me that if you walk into any criminal court, you will see bad guys on their best behavior; walk into any family court and you will see good people at their worst. To me, it seems like an awfully big coincidence that Stiviano's "secret tape" was magically leaked just few days after she filed a motion to dismiss Rochelle's complaint, which amongst other things stated that Rochelle knew her husband was an open and notorious philanderer and that she was complicit in his actions.

What better way to gain support and public in one's side than to align the person suing you with seemingly one of the most unabashed racists in Los Angeles County? Not surprisingly, Rochelle's spin team had her come out and decry Sterling's "despicable" comments less than a day after the controversy first ensued. Color me a cynic but are we really to believe that Rochelle a/k/a Shelly had no idea that her husband harbored racist views in spite of over fifty years of marriage? Moreover, to this day, she still has not filed for divorce, she merely has sued Stiviano to literally recover "gifts" back. If she was content with years of "not very secret" cheating in order to continue living her affluent lifestyle, it certainly seems reasonable that she would also put up with "one man's small mindedness" as well.

To that end, the Sterling case presents a veritable chess game's worth of moving parts. You have a mistress trying to maintain possession of over $2 million worth of community assets that may or may not have been misappropriated. You also have a wife who could be trying to secure a judgment alleging misappropriation of community assets in order to set up a future claim of violations pursuant to Family Code Sections 1100 et seq. in her divorce. Without getting too technical, this would allow Rochelle to recover the full value of any misappropriated assets and not just her 50% community share, and it would certainly explain why she has not yet filed for divorce. The only person who truly has nothing to gain now is Sterling, and not coincidentally, there hasn't been a peep from his camp since the controversy ensued.

At the end of the day, the Sterling situation promises to get a lot messier before it gets better. Yet while this situation plays out publicly over the next several months (and perhaps years), thousands of other cases involving equally manipulative parties will also play out in Los Angeles County family courts. And while Donald Sterling will certainly have enough money to live comfortably no matter what happens to him, several other parties will face life-altering consequences if they are not able to wade through the mind games and chicanery that is present in many divorce proceedings. It is hard enough to see clearly when one is of sound mind; divorce proceedings typically do not lead to very sound decision making.

Thus, if you do not have the ample assets and holdings of Donald Sterling, and you feel as if you might need competent, professional attorneys to examine your case, please do not hesitate to contact either of the family attorneys at the Cannon Legal Group.

Categories: Divorce