Ahead of a defense motion to dismiss the entire case, a judge ruled Monday that Clippers owner Steve Ballmer can be deposed by lawyers for a man who sued the Los Angeles Clippers and Jerry West, alleging he is owed $2.5 million for helping the team sign Kawhi Leonard.
The ruling came despite objections from defense attorney Duane R. Lyons, who argued, among other things, that lawyers for plaintiff Johnny Wilkes had not done enough to get the information from other people.
“We need to get this info, they’re stonewalling us,” Wilkes’ attorney, Kenechi R. Agu, told the judge.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Jon R. Takasugi said only Ballmer is likely to know the answers to some pertinent questions.
“I think the plaintiff has met his burden,” Takasugi said.
The judge declined, for now, a request by Lyons to put a limit on the length of time for the deposition, meaning Wilkes’ attorneys will have up to seven hours to pose inquiries to Ballmer.
“I think the judge got it right,” Wilkes’ attorney, Kenechi R. Agu, told City News Service outside the courtroom. “Mr. Ballmer knows more than he has let on to know.”
Wilkes alleges in his suit brought in December 2020 that he and West reached a verbal deal in 2019 in which Wilkes would provide the Clippers with information to lure Leonard to Los Angeles, taking advantage of the plaintiff’s close relationship with Leonard and the player’s uncle, Dennis Robertson.
Wilkes’ lawyers maintained in their court papers that the defense attorneys placed Ballmer “at the center of the controversy in this action” by attaching a contract entered into between Ballmer and West outlining the former NBA star’s employment relationship with the Clippers, which “goes directly to the heart of” the defense motion to dismiss the case, set for hearing on July 6.
The Clippers and West, a consultant to the Clippers, is an independent contractor and did not have any authority to enter into any kind of contract on behalf of the LA Clippers with anyone, including Wilkes, according to Wilkes’ attorneys’ court papers.
“There is only one person that can speak as to West’s employment status and relationship with the L.A. Clippers: the very man that hired and entered into a contract with West,” Wilkes’ lawyers argue in their court papers. “His name is Steve Ballmer.”
In their court papers, the defense attorneys state that the request to depose Ballmer is a thinly veiled attempt to harass Mr. Ballmer and the Clippers.
They also argue that the deposition should not be allowed because, among other things, Ballmer enjoys the status as a top corporate executive that requires others be deposed first to see if they have the same information.
However, Agu told the judge that when he deposed Clippers President of Basketball Operations Lawrence Frank, that executive told him that only Ballmer would have answers to some of the questions he was asking.
Ballmer, 66, purchased the Clippers in 2014 for a then record $2 billion.
Leonard, 30, underwent surgery last July to repair a partially torn right ACL he suffered earlier in a second round series with the Utah Jazz and did not play for the team the entire season.