It sounds like a sensational divorce headline. A jilted wife accuses her husband of spending millions of their money on his mistress and demands the court force the young woman to repay the money. There is just one difference, no one is getting divorced.
No stranger to scandal, Donald Sterling is once again the center of media attention. His wife, Shelly Sterling, has brought a unique legal case against her husband’s former “friend,” V. Stiviano. Mr. Sterling lavished Ms. Stiviano with expensive gifts, including luxury cars, European shopping trips, and a million dollar home.
Mrs. Sterling’s attorney is arguing that the funds Donald Sterling spent on these gifts were community property and as such he had no authority to spend the money on Ms. Stiviano without her consent. This creative use of community property law outside of a divorce case may be a first for California courts.
From the very start, this case seems custom designed to produce great sound bites for news headlines. Here are three strange revelations already made during the “undivorce” of Donald Sterling.
It was a 3.6 million dollar “friendship”
Both Donald Sterling and Ms. Stiviano testified in court that their relationship was not sexual. Previously, Stiviano had been described as Mr. Sterling’s personal assistant and driver. Sterling now says she is an ex-friend who manipulated him.
Besides cash gifts, jewelry, and international trips, he purchased her a Ferrari and a Bentley. Ms. Stiviano claims their relationship was not romantic but was “more than spiritual” and while he was very generous, she never took advantage of him. To most onlookers, the high value of the gifts seems excessive for only a friendship.
The hidden house
In an ironic twist, the same recordings which resulted in Donald Sterling’s lifetime ban from the NBA are being used against Stiviano. Her collection of 500 recordings made over a four year period have been mined by Mrs. Sterling’s attorneys for evidence. Some of the key audio appears to show Donald Sterling and Stiviano discussing how to hide the purchase of a home from his wife.
The $1.8 million home is one of the key assets Mrs. Sterling is asking the court to force Stiviano to return. Stiviano claims that she and Mr. Sterling purchased the home together and that she provided more than 50% of the purchase price. When asked to provide documentation of the funds she used, she claimed the nearly $1 million dollars had been contributed by friends and family and she had kept it not in a bank but in a dresser drawer.
Donald Sterling testified that he supplied all the funds to buy the home and that the home is only in Ms. Stiviano’s name because she convinced a bank employee to fraudulently alter a check. Despite his bizarre claims of bank fraud, Sterling has offered no explanation for why he bought the house for his now ex-friend.
It could make new law
Despite the media headlines generated by the case, the most interesting revelation of the case is the possibility of it creating new law. As a legal issue, community property is usually most relevant only during a divorce case. Issues about it’s use are usually resolved between the spouses. If Mrs. Sterling prevails in court, she will succeed in using community property law outside of a divorce to compel a third party to return assets. A ruling that may set precedent for future cases.
Whatever the outcome of the case, it is clear that Donald Sterling is not disappearing from the headlines anytime soon. His “undivorce” appears to be only the latest chapter in his very public life.