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Five things we learned from the Donald Sterling trial

The first week of the Donald Sterling trial in Los Angeles has provided even more entertainment value than expected.

Donald Sterling has put on an epic performance, displaying the preening vanity, tone-deafness, nastiness and irrational anger that made him the most hated man in America. He either does not know, or does not care about, the impact of berating his wife as a "pig" in front of Judge Michael Levanas.

In reverse order, here are the five most important things learned during the first week of the trial:

Donald Sterling
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Donald Sterling

5. The trial will not conclude until the end of July — at the earliest.

Judge Levanas announced that the trial would continue on July 22, with closing arguments will on July 28. At this point, Shelly Sterling has presented all of her witnesses (including Donald Sterling as a (very) hostile witness). There are three issues left to be decided:

1.Was Donald Sterling properly terminated as a trustee of the Sterling Family Trust?

2. Can Shelly Sterling complete the sale of the Los Angeles Clippers now that Donald Sterling has revoked the Sterling Family Trust?

3. If Judge Levanas allows the sale, can it be consummated while Donald Sterling appeals?

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The extension of the trial through the end of July means that the verdict will not be rendered by July 15, which is (1) the deadline in the Binding Term Sheet that Shelly Sterling signed with Steve Ballmer and (2) the date of the next scheduled meeting of the NBA Board of Governors, whose approval is needed. Ballmer's attorney has already announced that the deadline will be extended a month to August 15.

4. Shelly Sterling's experts have strong credibility.

Shelly Sterling's experts, Dr. James Spar and Dr. Merril Platzer, held up well during the first week of trial. At one point, Dr. Spar was asked whether he was familiar with the standard for mental incapacity under California law. He replied, "I should. I wrote it." He was not joking. Spar was consulted by the California legislature in drafting the statute.

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Donald Sterling and his attorneys aimed most of the fire at Dr. Platzer, accusing her of "going over to the dark side" and performing her examination of Donald Sterling while "intoxicated." Dr. Platzer calmly refuted these allegations. She was joined by Shelly Sterling, who testified that Dr. Platzer joined her for a meal after the examination was over because Shelly was so distraught upon hearing the diagnosis that Donald had likely been suffering from Alzheimer's Dementia for the past three years.

3. Shelly Sterling was a remarkably effective witness.

Shelly Sterling provided the court with candid insight into the mental deterioration of her husband over the past three years. She testified that he slurs his words, is forgetful and gets highly agitated for no good reason. She proclaimed that she is "sort of" separated from Donald, but that she still loves him and is his sole caregiver.

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Rebutting Donald Sterling's accusation that the neurological examinations were part of a conspiracy to oust him from control of the Clippers, Shelly testified that she asked him to be examined because she was so alarmed by his awful performance when interviewed by Anderson Cooper. She was first alerted to the possibility that Donald was suffering from dementia by Barbara Walters, who refused to interview him on air after he got into an irrational argument with a crew member backstage.

Shelly Sterling also provided strong evidence in support of the sale of the team. She decimated Donald's testimony that he wanted the NBA to seize control of the team to set up a multibillion-dollar antitrust suit. To the contrary, she testified that Donald was extremely afraid of termination and specifically authorized her to go to New York and arrange for the sale of 100 percent of the team in advance of the scheduled June 3 NBA termination hearing. She provided vivid detail of how Donald verbally approved her auction of the team, and only changed his mind at the last minute in a wild tirade at Shelly and his own attorneys.

Shelly also provided new evidence to explain why the team must be sold, even if the trust is revoked. It turns out that Donald Sterling amassed $500 million in debt on the trust. The lenders are calling in the loans now that Donald has revoked the trust. The team must be liquidated in order to raise the cash to satisfy the loans. If the team was out for bids today, after Donald Sterling has vowed to fight to the death, it is highly unlikely it would command the $2 billion that Steve Ballmer agreed to pay.

2. Donald Sterling believes he is an alpha male who can dominate a courtroom.

Donald Sterling came to court ready to lock horns with his cross-examiner, legendary litigator Bert Fields. He goaded Fields by feigning ignorance of his name, derided the questions he asked and referred to Fields as a "smart ass." Near the end of his first day of testimony, Sterling brought out a tissue and tweaked Fields for his pre-trial promise to make Donald Sterling cry on the witness stand.

1. Donald Sterling, in reality, is wildly out of control & self-destructive

Donald Sterling is not the man that he thinks he is. In his world, Donald Sterling is not a racist, but "loved by all people." He views himself as the victim of a conspiracy led by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, Shelly Sterling, her attorneys and possibly the men's room attendant at the White House. He did himself no favors when he literally shouted at the court that he would continue to sue the NBA until his dying day. His newly-minted claim that there is $150 million missing from the NBA front office sounded unhinged, verging on "tinfoil hat" testimony.

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Donald Sterling's mental instability was most vividly shown in his vacillating treatment of his wife. He repeatedly testified that Shelly was the only person in the world whom he loves and trusts. But he then disparaged her intelligence and business acumen. He claimed his wife had agreed to sell the team only because she had been "terrorized" by the NBA. But he then reduced her to tears when he barked at her, "Get away from me, you pig" when she left the witness stand.

If Donald Sterling wanted to give the impression that he is out-of-control, irrational and suffering from neurological degeneration, he could not have done a better job while keeping his clothes on.

Commentary by Mitchell Epner, an attorney specializing in white-collar crime, sports and entertainment law and intellectual property. He's also a former Assistant United States Attorney in the District of New Jersey. Follow him on Twitter @mitchellepner.

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