The King is dead; long live the King. What an appropriate description of the precipitous fall from grace of the soon-to-be former owner of the Los Angeles Clippers professional basketball team. The legal proceedings concerning the sale of the Los Angeles Clippers to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer are replete with legal issues. One intriguing question concerns a medical expert witness socializing with Donald Sterling, the very person about whose mental health she provided expert testimony.
In opposing the two billion dollar sale of the Clippers, Donald Sterling’s attorneys questioned the ability of neurologist Dr. Meril S. Platzer to testify given her prior social contact with Sterling. Dr. Platzer was one of two physicians who examined Mr. Sterling on behalf of the family trust that controlled the Clippers and declared him to be lacking in mental capacity. Dr. Platzer, Mr. Sterling, Mr. Sterling’s estranged wife Rochelle “Shelly” Sterling, Mr. Sterling’s attorney Bobby Samini, and a Sterling family friend, had dinner and drinks together at the Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel after she examined Mr. Sterling earlier the same day. According to Dr. Platzer, Donald and his entourage basically barged into the dinner of Shelly Sterling and Dr. Platzer despite Shelly’s attempts to “discourage them.”
Medical expert witnesses must grasp the significance not only of their testimony, but also of maintaining a professional relationship and distance with the individual examined. Even in situations where courts finds that the professional relationship, and thereby the results of the examination, have not been compromised like the Sterling trial, social activities such as dinner and drinks (while they certainly may be enjoyable) should be avoided.
As the old hoops saying goes, “No harm, no foul.” Judge Michael Levanas of the California Superior Court eventually sided with the trust – and Dr. Platzer—and found Donald Sterling mentally incapacitated.