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Monday, Jun 24, 2024

Special Report: Who’s Who In Law – Adam Streisand




Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton partner Adam Streisand has represented a number of big names in Los Angeles. Singer Britney Spears famously wished to have Streisand represent her when her father was obtaining conservatorship over her. He guided the change of ownership for the Los Angeles Clippers, and helped Jeanie Buss retain control of the Los Angeles Lakers. His courtroom estate battles include those for Marlon Brando, Dennis Hopper and Anna Nicole Smith.

Outside of the courtroom, Streisand has lent his expertise as an analyst for CNN and Fox News and is an instructor with the National Institute of Trial Advocacy.

How did you discover your interest in law? And how did you arrive at your specialty?

I began my legal career as an entertainment litigator. A highlight was my victory for the Beastie Boys and Capitol Records in the first digital-sampling case decided by the U.S. Court of Appeal. It is a case that is taught in every law school in the country.

One day a partner in my prior law firm — who would become a mentor to me — suggested I should consider trusts and estates litigation. I thought he had to be mad. I had not even taken the course in law school, opting instead to learn only what was relevant for the bar exam. But what he said next intrigued me. He told me that when he started practicing in that domain 40 years ago, there were maybe three lawyers who were the go-to lawyers for the big cases. Forty years later, at the time we were speaking, there were still only three. That was certainly not true of entertainment litigation. I loved working in the entertainment sphere, but I agreed to work on one case. To my surprise, I discovered quickly how complex, intense, fascinating and unpredictable this niche of litigation could be.


Tell us about the most noteworthy or interesting case (or cases) that you’ve been involved with.

I am fond of my victory for Steve Ballmer to wrest control of the Clippers away from Donald Sterling. I felt strongly that Sterling’s conduct was outrageous and utterly unacceptable, and I was determined to be the person to take the team from him. My strategy was novel and surprised even the experts in the field. When Steve [Ballmer] called me on a Saturday, he had just made a $2 billion offer to buy the Clippers. Shelly Sterling was purporting to act as the sole trustee of the Sterling Family Trust, having purported to remove Donald as a co-trustee based on physician reports indicating that he was no longer mentally capable of carrying out his duties. Steve told me that Shelly’s counsel planned on sending a Notice of Proposed Action to Donald that Shelly intended to sell to Steve. I asked if he intended to spend the next five years waiting while they litigated over this Notice of Proposed Action. He said not a chance. I told him that there is an arcane provision of the California Probate Code, but no cases applying it, but, section 1310(b), by its terms, provides something totally out of the realm of what we generally understand about our legal system: a trial court can instruct a trustee to take action — even before an appeal to a higher court — if the court determines that failing to do so could cause imminent and irreparable harm. It was likely designed to allow something like a tax election, so a deadline wasn’t missed. I thought, what better opportunity to take a little-known statute to entirely unchartered territory than this. The NBA was threatening to seize the team from the trust unless it was sold.

We filed an ex parte request to approve the sale and issue an order under section 1310(b) to direct the sale to occur notwithstanding an appeal. The judge ordered us to trial in 30 days, which is unheard of. There were numerous hurdles to overcome at trial that are fascinating, but for purposes of brevity, to establish a case under 1310(b), I needed to put on evidence of the claim for imminent and irreparable harm. I put on the stand Dick Parsons, the former Citigroup and AOL/Time Warner CEO, whom the NBA had appointed as interim Clippers president. I had Dick testify that the Clippers were in a “death spiral” — the NBA was threatening seizure, coaches were threatening they wouldn’t coach, players were threatening they wouldn’t play, and sponsors and season ticket holders were demanding their money back if Sterling remained as owner. (I got away with a lot of hearsay, but none of those people wanted to testify.) The court ruled in our favor and granted the order instructing Shelly to sell.


What is the biggest challenge that comes with your job?

My cases are highly emotional, and are high-stakes economically. My clients and I have a unique bond, as I am the person who championed them when they were at their most vulnerable, because family warfare is raw. Because of all this, I go to trial far more often than civil litigators. I enjoy that professionally, but I know it takes its toll on me.

Most lawyers have a limited audience for their work, but your clients’ legal proceedings often have enormous fan and media followings. What is it like to work under such a spotlight?

I am accustomed to the interest that others have in these cases, and I respect their interest in knowing the truth. I also recognize that I cannot alter the interest in these affairs, so I need to help to ensure they are reported accurately and that our narrative is understood by the public.  Successful trial lawyers are persuasive storytellers. The stories about our relationships are the most compelling stories we can tell. A great trial is theater. Full of drama, emotion and suspense. A trial is made up of two (or more) theater pieces performed simultaneously, with a judge or jury deciding the best ending. But people in their relationships see events through the prism of their own experiences, pain and desires. One difficulty I have when trying to be responsive to the media while I am in trial is that I become somewhat introverted, because I am trying to conserve my emotional energy for the moment when I am ‘on’ in court. It is the best way I know how to make sure those moments are authentic. But it all makes sense to me as a storyteller that there is an audience that is listening, and it comes with the territory because of the high-profile nature of my cases.

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