A California judge has ruled that the girlfriend of former Clippers owner Donald Sterling must pay back the $2.6 million given to her in gifts from Sterling in a surprising ruling that defines these gifts as community property even though the couple was separated and moving toward divorce. Judge Richard Fruin Jr. awarded Shelly Sterling most of the nearly $3 million she had sought. I have previously discussed how the case highlights the often troubling line of what constitutes prostitution and what constitutes a gifts. [Notably both Sterling and Stiviano deny having a sexual relationship] If Sterling had given V. Stiviano money directly for sex, it would be illegal. Instead, he gave her millions in gifts as part of a relationship. Regardless of where to draw that particular line, Fruin said that the line on community property is drawn to include the house, luxury cars and expensive gifts given to Stiviano as she served as the companion of the octogenarian Sterling.
The decision is obviously sweet justice for Shelly Sterling, particularly after tape conversations showing Stiviano laying the groundwork for claiming that these are gifts, including one conversation played in court where she tells Sterling “The truth is that everything that I have, you’ve given me from your heart without me begging or asking or throwing myself all over you.” Very creepy. Stiviano also claimed that, while Sterling paid for most of the luxury duplex, she contributed an unknown amount of small bills that she kept in a dresser drawer.
In just over two years, Sterling gave her a Ferrari, a Bentley and a Range Rover, and paid the lion’s share of a $1.8 million duplex. Anyone looking at (or listening to) Sterling might conclude that Stiviano still got the worst end of the deal. However, I am still unclear as how this line is drawn. Clearly, both Sterlings gave gifts to various people during this period. However, the size of the gifts appear the determinative factor.
In the meantime, Stiviano has insisted that their relationship was not romantic and that Sterling was more of a “father figure.” Sterling also insisted that they never had sex.
Mrs. Sterling initially sought about $3.6 million but secured $2.8 million, based on evidence at trial and Stiviano’s own admissions.
Clearly, given the $2 billion sale of the Clippers, this was not about the money for Mrs. Sterling.