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THE SITUATION ROOM
Interview With Attorney for Donald Sterling
Aired May 29, 2014 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: For our viewers in the United States and around the world who are just joining us, we're following breaking news about the embattled L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling and a possible lawsuit against the NBA as he fights to hold on to the Clippers.
We're speaking with his attorney, Maxwell Blecher, in Los Angeles. Our correspondents and our analysts, they are all standing by to talk about these dramatic elements later.
But let's get back to Mr. Blecher right now.
And Jeffrey Toobin is here with me, Mr. Blecher. He will help me with questioning.
I asked you earlier about the NBA board of governors meeting next Tuesday in New York, where they are going to decide whether or not Donald Sterling should be allowed to keep the Clippers. The 29 other owners will be there. Here's the question. Will Donald Sterling be in New York next Tuesday to attend that meeting?
MAXWELL BLECHER, ATTORNEY FOR DONALD STERLING: Before I answer that question directly, let me observe that this meeting is what I regard as a kangaroo court; 10 owners before they even read the NBA charges, and before they read our defense in response to them, announced how they're going to vote.
So, you can't tell me that they're coming there with an open mind to listen to what Mr. Sterling or his lawyer may say. But the direct answer to your question is, the constitution provides that if Sterling does not show up, he waives all of his rights and agrees that the charges are true. He's not going to do that. He is going to show up.
BLITZER: He will be in New York.
I'm hearing from my sources close to the NBA, Mr. Blecher, that to avoid that meeting and have no meeting next Tuesday in New York, three things must occur. There must be a purchase agreement, the sale of the L.A. Clippers to someone. There must be a settlement agreement between Donald Sterling and the NBA. And he has to pay that $2.5 million fine.
If those three conditions are achieved, there will be no need for that meeting. What are the chances of those three conditions being achieved between now and Tuesday?
BLECHER: And are you negotiating for the NBA?
BLITZER: I'm just asking.
BLECHER: Nobody has told us those.
BLITZER: I'm just asking the questions.
BLECHER: I am certain that Mr. Sterling would not agree to those conditions and that the proper way to go about this is to suspend the meeting so that we don't do this under extraordinary pressure and function of having to decide things in 36 or 48 hours.
There is no reason this meeting has to take place on June 3. There is absolutely no exigency created. The proper way to do it and how I have been doing it for a long, long time is you get everybody together in a room, you trade ideas, and you see what evolves.
And Mr. Sterling is not unwilling to do that, but we're not willing to knuckle under to some demands that they make without even listening to our side of the point -- our point of view.
BLITZER: Mr. Blecher, I know you're a very intelligent man and an excellent lawyer. You certainly understand how much Donald Sterling has offended not just the African-American community, but the entire community out there with his racist comments.
He has really, really angered so many people, to the point that they don't want him involved at all in the NBA. You appreciate that, right?
BLECHER: I do.
BLITZER: You do or don't?
BLECHER: I do.
BLITZER: You appreciate...
BLECHER: I do. He's made a lot of people -- he's made a lot of...
BLITZER: Because the other NBA owners, the 29 other owners for all practical purposes they say if he's allowed to continue to be the owner of the L.A. Clippers, the league will suffer, television rights will suffer, advertisers will run away, it will be a disaster economically for the NBA, and as a result, the NBA constitution allows them to get rid of them. That's what the other owners, I'm hearing from them, are going to conclude. (CROSSTALK)
BLECHER: You mean including the hypocritical owner that pays money to support anti-gay causes? He's the one that's going to sit in judgment on Mr. Sterling? Are you kidding me? Is that justice in the United States? To have these hypocrites decide his fate?
BLITZER: You're talking about the owner of the Orlando team..
BLECHER: If that's the right one.
I know that some man is paying a lot of money to support anti-gay causes. And in our answer that we gave to the NBA, we list any number of owners who have made statements that are either racist or anti-gay or whatever. And we got players.
I mean, look what Shaq O'Neal did. He went on television and he mocked crippled people. Look at what Kobe Bryant said about a referee. What do they got? O'Neal got zero and Kobe got $100,000 fine, which he paid out of his petty cash drawer.
I mean, it's nonsense. I know that private organizations are afforded a lot more latitude than governments, but they don't have unlimited rights. We have researched this pretty carefully. And there are a lot of cases saying that private organizations cannot do things that are discriminatory, cannot do things that are unethical. They cannot do things that are unreasonable or are in this case draconian.
And there is a lot to be heard and said about the nature of the punishment, considering all the other things that the league has done and put up with, and considering Mr. Sterling's track record, as to whether or not what they're doing is at all reasonable. In my view, it's completely unreasonable.
BLITZER: Let's talk about the law. Jeffrey Toobin is a legal scholar. He's written books on the Supreme Court. He knows the law. He studied it very careful.
Go ahead with your questions.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Mr. Blecher, it sounds like there's a clear settlement out there for whoever -- if you wanted to get it.
Shelly Sterling and the NBA find a buyer that they think is a good one. The NBA says, you know, we're going to drop these charges and thank Donald Sterling for his good work and his charitable work, and $2.5 million goes to some charity that everybody agrees on. What about that? And that all happens simultaneously.
BLECHER: First I have heard about it on television. TOOBIN: Well, no, I'm asking.
BLECHER: I would have to tune in and find out -- I will have to tune in to CNN and find out what the NBA is thinking, because they don't talk to me.
The answer is, I don't think the three-point program that you laid out is going to be acceptable to Mr. Sterling. He has his own ideas. I don't want to try to communicate a settlement offer on television. That's not the way it's done.
The way it should be done is to say, look, there may be a way we can resolve this. Let's postpone this meeting two weeks or four weeks or whatever and sit around and see if he can come up with something. So, I don't know that that will work, but that's the right way to do it.
TOOBIN: So, if you say...
BLECHER: We don't need to negotiate with a -- guillotine -- we don't need -- let me say this. We don't need to negotiate with them with a guillotine over our head. That's not the way you negotiate.
TOOBIN: You're threatening to file a lawsuit. Why don't you go ahead and file it if you're really going to file it?
BLECHER: We will see what the league does.
TOOBIN: When do you think you would file it if you don't -- the NBA won't talk to you. When are you going to file the case?
BLECHER: We have an option of filing it before Tuesday, or we have an option of filing it after Tuesday.
There is no detriment to our filing it either way. So, we will make that decision. We haven't made it yet. We did not want to interfere. I will be very candid with you. We did not want to interfere with Mrs. Sterling's effort to sell or to try to arrange for the sale of the team. And so we're just sitting still for the moment, seeing where that, if anywhere, will lead us.
BLITZER: Well, let's talk a little bit about that for a moment, Mr. Sterling -- excuse me -- Mr. Blecher, I should say.
Mr. Sterling has made it clear, I assume, in that letter he wrote to his wife -- did he write a letter to his wife authorizing her to go ahead and negotiate a sale of the team?
BLECHER: He wrote a letter to the league authorizing her to negotiate. He understands the emphasis is on negotiating. She believes he's authorized her completely to sell the team.
I'm not sure there's a meeting of the minds on the wording of that letter. But, in any event, we have backed off while she's undertaking to try to sell the team, in the expectation that could, could -- I want to underscore could -- lead to some negotiations to resolve the matter.
We have not wanted to step in because I think, and Mr. Sterling thinks, if we file a lawsuit, those buyers are going to run for cover. So you want an answer why we haven't filed a lawsuit. It's out of respect and deference to what Mr. Sterling is doing to try to bring about a resolution.
But the NBA hasn't gotten off its you-know-what one inch to meet us halfway.
BLITZER: A final question before -- and you have been very generous with your time, Mr. Blecher. And we appreciate that.
If the other owners really don't want Donald Sterling to be their partner any longer, why would he want to stay in that little fraternity, if you will, the NBA board of governors?
BLECHER: That, sir, is a question I think should be addressed to him. I don't play psychiatrist. I try to be a lawyer.
BLITZER: Because it looks like the other owners don't want him any longer. Certainly, the fans don't want him. The players don't want him. Why would he want to stay in a situation where he's not wanted?
BLECHER: I went all through this with Al Davis. They didn't want him either, but he persisted and stayed on until he passed away, so I think these fellows all have a big ego.
Don Sterling invested more time with the NBA team than any other man in the history of the sport. And I think he feels he has an entitlement to the fruits of his labor. It's that simple.
BLITZER: One final question. If Shelly Sterling gets a deal, a purchase agreement with one of these groups, there are probably half- a-dozen very, very wealthy people out there who want to buy the L.A. Clippers, and it comes in at a good price, $1.5 billion, $2 billion, $2.5 billion, will he accept that deal?
BLECHER: Not without reaching an accommodation with the NBA which gives him some form of vindication. The money is not critical to him.
BLITZER: Well, it sounds to me like there can be a settlement under those circumstances. You're probably not that far away.
The question is, does Shelly Sterling have a buyer? The answer is yes. Will the NBA be able to do something, say something to give Mr. Sterling a little bit of what he wants? Probably. And maybe that meeting next Tuesday won't be necessary after all. But we will see. We will see what happens.
Maxwell Blecher, you...
BLITZER: Go ahead. You want to make a final statement?
BLECHER: I hope not. I don't like going to New York.
BLITZER: It's a nice place, New York.
BLECHER: I mean, I hope the meeting won't be necessary.
Oh, it is.
BLITZER: Yes. I hope the meeting won't be necessary either. The NBA hopes the meeting won't be necessary.
I'm sure Shelly Sterling wants to take the money and run. And we will see what Donald Sterling wants to do.
Thanks so much. If there's anything else you want to say, this is your chance. Go ahead.
BLECHER: No, sir. It's been my pleasure to talk with you and try to get Mr. Sterling's story out there a little bit, so people have a better perspective of where he's coming from. And I do appreciate, and he appreciates the opportunity to do that.
My pleasure. Thank you very much.
BLITZER: Donald Sterling's fortunate to have you as his attorney, Maxwell Blecher. Thanks very much for joining us. As I said before, you have been generous with your time.
We will take a quick break. We will have analysis with our panel when we come back.
BLITZER: We're following the breaking news, the interview we just conducted with Donald Sterling's attorney, Maxwell Blecher.
Let's get reaction. Joining us, our panel, Don Lemon, our CNN anchor, our CNN commentator L.Z. Granderson, and Jeffrey Toobin, our senior legal analyst.
Don, what did you think?
DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Where do I start, Wolf? I was about to jump out of my chair.
Let me just -- I'm going to preface this by saying this guy is an eight-track tape in an iTunes era. If Donald Sterling thinks that he helped himself, or if that attorney thinks he helped Donald Sterling, then he is sadly mistaken. That man that was just on television is just as out of touch, if not more, than Donald Sterling with the things that were coming out of his mouth. If you're going to get on television and you're going to talk about how you supported black causes, you should know that the name is United Negro College Fund, not the United Negro Fund.
You should not get on television and say that Donald Sterling has been a member in good standing of the league, when he actually sued the league because he wanted to move the team from San Diego to Los Angeles. You should not get on television saying that Donald Sterling is not a racist and we should not believe our own ears, because he said as much in an interview with Anderson Cooper.
He compared African-Americans to Jewish people, basically saying that Jewish people were better because they helped each other and conducted business better. Even if you don't use the tape, which he is disturbed by, saying that the NBA invaded his privacy, the NBA did not go into his living room and recorded him.
V. Stiviano did it. The NBA is not concerned how the tape got into the public domain. It is in the public domain. It is having a negative impact on the NBA. That's all they have to be concerned with, and if he is worried about that tape getting out, and invasion of privacy, what that speaks to is Donald Sterling's judgment or lack thereof about the people he has around him, like V. Stiviano, who will record him.
So, that doesn't speak highly of Donald Sterling that he allowed someone into his life and into his home who recorded him and then released a tape. There's so much more, that, like, he's a loyal member, they damaged his reputation.
Donald Sterling damaged his own reputation by coming on television and saying what he said. He wants to be vindicated. If he wants to be -- listen, I'm all about forgiving people, all right? I'm a believer in a higher power. I forgive you.
But if you want to be vindicated, go back and look at the tapes, go back and look at what you said beyond the tape that was released to the public that you believe was released illegally. I just think that it was ridiculous.
And I really want to talk about -- when he talks about when he's had several head coaches and general managers and all of that and he's really helped the African-American community, Elgin Baylor sued him. Elgin Baylor said that he had a plantation-style mentality and he wanted to run the team that way.
I believe we have the sound bite of him saying that. We don't have it? All right. Anyway, I will go -- that's the end of my rant.
BLITZER: Don, hold on for a moment.
I want L.Z. to get involved. L.Z., what do you make of that core argument that the audiotape that was released was illegally recorded by V. Stiviano, the so-called girlfriend, and as a result it should be inadmissible?
L.Z. GRANDERSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, part of this is the reason why from the very beginning of this story, I thought it was a misstep by the NBA and commissioner Silver to focus solely on the audiotape, because we have 30-plus years of Donald Sterling behavior that would support reasons why the NBA would not want to be associated with him anymore.
You didn't have to rely on what could be an illegal tape. I thought it was a misstep. But the thing that really was interesting to me was a couple of things. One, I thought he did a really -- I thought the lawyer did a good job of giving us other shiny objects to look like -- to look at, rather.
GRANDERSON: For example, Rich DeVos, the owner of the NBA's Orlando Magic, there is a tape out there he did with a local newspaper in which he says some very disturbing and offensive things about the LGBT people, HIV and AIDS victims.
That part is true. I know it's circulating on several media sites. So, he gave us another shiny object to look at. And then also he brings up the question of privacy. And it's a huge conversation right now with the NSA and this movement, whether it's Tea Party- inspired or not, to push up against big government, to push up against being spied upon.
So, he did a good job of touching on that and having us have a little sympathy going. You know, when it comes to that part, he's kind of right. But the thing that he misses, and the thing that I would like to talk about, you know, going forward is the fact that the Supreme Court made it very clear I think back in 2000, with the Boy Scouts of America, is that a public or private club can choose to associate with whomever they choose to associate with.
So if this private club, which is the NBA, decides it no longer, for viable reasons, no longer wants to be associated with Donald Sterling, I believe -- and, Jeffrey Toobin, you can help me out with this -- I believe their First Amendment rights guarantee that group that privilege of not being associated with him anymore.
BLITZER: All right, Jeffrey Toobin is going to respond to that point, but I want to take another quick break. We will be right back, more of our conversation.
BLITZER: Welcome back.
We're continuing our conversation with Don Lemon, L.Z. Granderson, and Jeffrey Toobin.
Jeffrey, I don't know about you, but I came away from that interview with Maxwell Blecher, the lawyer for Donald Sterling, convinced that there may be an opening here for a settlement and maybe there won't be that meeting in New York next Tuesday.
TOOBIN: I had exactly the same impression.
He said very clearly, the reason he has not sued is because he is letting Shelly Sterling negotiate to sell the team. She is going to negotiate to sell the team. She will make a proposed deal. She will bring it to him. It sounds like the NBA can finesse a statement and this whole thing can go away.
LEMON: I would not bet on it. I would not bet on it. I would not bet on it.
BLITZER: Because if the NBA says something, at least, well, you were a good guy for -- at one point in your life, sell the team, move on, you don't think that he would accept -- take the $1.5 billion and run?
LEMON: I don't believe anything that comes out of any of their mouths.
So far, they have contradicted themselves over and over again. I don't believe it. If you fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. I do not believe anything they say.
That lawyer was clearly as rehearsed as he could be. And even in being rehearsed, he still did not help his client. I don't believe them, and I think that Donald Sterling -- obviously, Donald and Shelly Sterling should sell the team. It's not going to happen. I would not believe them.
BLITZER: L.Z., what do you think?
GRANDERSON: You know, I think there is a part of there in which Donald Sterling would like to be able to go back into an NBA building.
I'm not quite sure how stuck he is on the $2.5 million fine. And I thought it was interesting that the lawyer said that Kobe's $100,000 fine was a drop in the bucket, because $2.5 million compared to Donald Sterling's worth is also a drop in the bucket.
But I do believe that there's probably an element of him wanting that lifetime ban lifted. And that's kind of seeing whether or not commissioner Silver is willing to yield anything in terms of the punishment that's been brought down.
BLITZER: L.Z. Granderson, Don Lemon, Jeffrey Toobin, thanks, guys, very much for joining us. That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. Please be sure to join us again tomorrow here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Certainly, you can watch us live. You can DVR the show, so you won't miss a moment.
I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.