As the NBA continues it efforts to remove L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling from the league, we're starting to get a better understanding of the legal strategy they will deploy against him. The biggest weapon in their arsenal: Sterling signed moral and ethical contracts with the NBA. The NBA will be using these contracts in conjunction with its constitution and by-laws to force the Clippers' owner to sell his team. However, Sterling is still likely to sue to hang on and it could get messy.
The league's constitution provides the mechanism for removing an owner if the owner "fail(s) or refuse(s) to fulfill its contractual obligations to the Association." In that event, the other owners can vote to force a sale of the team, the threshold is 75 percent agreement. The owner's finance committee (consisting of ten owners) has already unanimously agreed that it will vote to force the sale. The full Board of Governors vote is expected in mid-May.
It is expected that Donald Sterling will fight the forced sale, even if the 75 percent vote passes. He's a billionaire, so he has ample resources to take on the NBA's legal team. A source close to him has said, "He’ll sue and it’ll take years to settle." Sterling's defense will likely be based on Article 13(a) in the league's constitution, which states:
"The Membership of a Member or the interest of any Owner may be terminated by a vote of three fourths (3/4) of the Board of Governors if the Member or Owner shall do or suffer any of the following:
(a) Willfully violate any of the provisions of the Constitution and By-Laws, resolutions, or agreements of the Association."
Sterling will likely argue that his actions were not "willful." The recording that was his undoing was obtained illegally, and leaked without his consent. California is a two-party consent state, meaning "California makes it a crime to record or eavesdrop on any confidential communication, including a private conversation or telephone call, without the consent of all parties to the conversation."