Shelly Sterling vs. V. Staviano: Return the Community Property!

In 1955, Donald Sterling (nee Tokowitz) married Rochelle “Shelly” Stein in Los Angeles County, California. They had three children and proceeded to build an empire based mostly on commercial and residential real estate in the area. They also purchased a basketball team known as the Los Angeles Clippers. By the twenty first century, the Sterlings were billionaires. Donald, however, appeared to have a wandering eye, and had extra marital affairs during the marriage.

On April 25, 2014, everything came to a crashing end when an audio recording allegedly of Donald’s voice was made public. In the recording, Donald allegedly tells a woman, later identified as V. Staviano, that he doesn’t want her associating with men of color. The following day, the Clippers’ president issued a press release that a month earlier, Shelly Sterling had filed a law suit against V. Staviano for the return of community property (totally millions of dollars) that Donald had gifted to Staviano, and Staviano had vowed to get even with Donald. The backlash from the public was so severe that it ultimately caused Donald to be banished from the NBA league for life and the sale of the basketball team itself for $2 billion.

In March of 2015, the case of Shelly vs. V began with Shelly telling the judge that Donald had no right give gifts to V, because those gifts were purchased with community property and Shelly did not agree to the gifts. V. argued that V. received the gifts at the time Shelly and Donald were separated, and could not be community property. (V. is also arguing that Shelly could not know from whom and how V. received possession of the property.) The trial is ongoing.

In California, both spouses are responsible for the community property. Both of them have the right to control the community property, and both of them have a very high duty to each other to take care of the community property (similar to a banker’s duty to take care of his/her depositors’ money). They can also make gifts of community property to each other, but they cannot make gifts of community property to third parties without the consent of the other spouse. Under the law, when one spouse gifts community property to a third person without the consent of the other spouse, the other spouse can go into court and request that the community property be returned to the spouses.

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