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Friday, September 12, 2014
Donald Sterling Draws Ironic Judicial Assignment in Federal Lawsuit Against NBA

Long before Donald Sterling became known for making vitriolic racist comments and odd relationship choices, he had, to put it mildly, a less-than-sterling (couldn't resist that!) reputation as a landlord. As has been reported elsewhere, Sterling and his rental companies (including the Sterling Family Trust -- yes, that one!) were accused in a 2006 federal lawsuit of engaging in housing discrimination by refusing to rent properties to African-Americans, Hispanics, and families with children. Sterling and his companies settled that case in 2009 by agreeing to pay nearly $2.75 million. He also was accused in an earlier lawsuit of making discriminatory and disparaging statements about minority tenants and engaging in discriminatory housing practices, such as by refusing to accept rent from African-American tenants and then later attempting to use the tenants' supposed failure to pay rent as a basis for eviction. Court records show that Sterling settled that suit by agreeing to pay nearly $5 million in attorneys' fees to the plaintiffs.

Proving the old adage that "everything you do will come back to you" (G-rated version of "Karma can be a *****"), Donald Sterling can be none too pleased over the judicial assignment in his federal lawsuit against the NBA. In a deliciously-ironic twist, the judge assigned to that case is well-steeped in housing discrimination -- from the plaintiff's side. Sterling's federal judge is Fernando Olguin, who was appointed by President Obama in 2012. A significant portion of Judge Olguin's pre-judicial career was spent fighting housing discrimination. For six years, Judge Olguin was a name partner in the Pasadena-based law firm of Traber, Vorhees & Olguin, where he primarily represented plaintiffs in civil rights and labor cases. The law firm's website describes the firm as a "plaintiff-side" law firm that has "successfully litigated groundbreaking employment and housing discrimination cases, as well as other cases involving sexual harassment, unfair or unlawful business practices, claims of wage and overtime law violations, intentional human rights consumer rights, constitutional violations and educational rights." The firm's website adds that "[i]n fighting for and extending the right of people everywhere to be free from discrimination, we have brought cases against individuals, companies and public entities and sought to protect people from discrimination and harassment based on race, ethnicity, national original, sexual orientation, gender, familial status, disability and age." Earlier in his career, Judge Olguin served as a trial attorney in the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice from 1991 to 1994, enforcing the Fair Housing Act and the Public Accommodations Act.

To some, this may seem like poetic justice. To others, it's just the roll of the judicial dice. Predicting how a judge will rule based on his or her past experience in private practice is futile (but fun!). And, to be clear, there is no indication that Judge Olguin or the Traber & Vorhees law firm ever represented clients in litigation against Donald Sterling and/or any of his companies. That would be clear grounds for recusal. But, nonetheless, I find this particular judicial assignment to be especially ironic --and amusing-- in view of Donald Sterling's past business practices. I'm pretty certain that Donald Sterling's legal team would have preferred litigating his case in front of a judge who did not spend the vast majority of his legal career representing victims of housing discrimination. No word yet on whether Judge Olguin is also a Los Angeles Clippers season ticket holder or a team sponsor! But Judge Olguin did make news recently when Above The Law reported that he was offering a "no-pay" judicial clerkship for recent law school graduates -- one of only a few federal judges across the country who engage in this practice. All things considered, this has not been a very good year for Donald Sterling. And his luck does not appear to be improving.


If a bad year is one in which you get paid US$2B for something you ruined, could I please have a bad year as well?

Blogger Ken Houghton -- 9/30/2014 1:55 PM  

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