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LEGAL VIEW WITH ASHLEIGH BANFIELD

NBA Commissioner to Hold Press Conference on Alleged Racist Comments; Donald Sterling Has History of Racial Issues; Alabama Hit By Storms; Your Phone May be Used Against You

Aired April 29, 2014 - 12:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Joining me here is CNN commentator Mel Robbins, and also joining me by Skype to talk about the NBA's range of legal possibilities and punishments for Sterling is Michael McCann. He's a legal analyst for "Sports Illustrated."

Michael, I want to begin with you. First thing's first, we keep talking about this as all allegations, because Mr. Sterling has not confirmed nor denied that that's him on the tape making those repulsive comments.

But the NBA can make him do that, can't they?

MICHAEL MCCANN, LEGAL ANALYST/WRITER, "SPORTS ILLUSTRATED" AND SI.COM: They can. That's right, Ashleigh. The NBA has the ability to require an owner or an employee of a team to cooperate with the league investigation.

One of the key powers of Commissioner Silver is the power to investigate. And if Donald Sterling doesn't comply, he can be sanctioned for that alone, plus the other things.

BANFIELD: By the way, if he doesn't, can the sanction be massive or if he refuses to comply, if he refuses to answer the question, is it sort of a limited option for the commissioner and the league?

MCCANN: Well, there are really types of penalties that the commissioner could use here. One is the fine. The fine would be sort of the least onerous. It probably would attract a lot of criticism.

He's worth somewhere in the ballpark of $1.9 billion. A fine ranging from $1 million to $2.5 million, for all of us would be the worst thing ever, for him would probably be a drop in the bucket.

The next thing up is a suspension, possibly an indefinite suspension or a suspension of some length of time. To me, that's the most likely outcome.

And in a suspension, Donald Sterling would be barred from any contact with the Clippers. He wouldn't be able to talk to players, coaches, team personnel.

He literally -- it would almost be akin to a restraining order. He would be excommunicated from his own team.

He would still make money during that time, which will certainly attract some criticism.

The last possible penalty is to expel him from the league. That, however, would likely trigger a legal issue, specifically a lawsuit under antitrust law, in particular.

BANFIELD: Let me bring Mel into this conversation, because we finally kind of know some of the actual articles of the constitution, what they say, what they cover, and what may end up being the bane of that man's existence right now.

And these specifics are -- those were the generalities, but the specifics are, and let's start with this, the suspensions. Under Paragraph 24, I believe that's an "I," this is something that covers the nebulous, so to speak, stuff that's not super-definable, like you cheated, you lied, and we got you, you know, that kind thing.

But it's not a -- actually, no, this isn't very serious. This is the $2.5 million fine and this is the indefinite suspension, correct?

MEL ROBBINS, CNN COMMENTATOR: Right, and also that they could suspend draft picks.

There's another section. So basically Silver has two different sections according to the bylaws that are reported by ESPN where he can take action.

One of them says $2.5 million, suspension of draft picks and a suspension of Sterling himself.

The other one --

BANFIELD: Indefinite.

ROBBINS: Yeah, and here's the other one. If he, quote, "makes a statement having or designed to have an effect prejudicial or detrimental to the best interests of basketball," he can get a lifetime suspension and a $1 million fine.

BANFIELD: But then he still can own the team.

ROBBINS: This is a question I have for Michael, if he's still with us.

BANFIELD: Yeah. Fire away.

ROBBINS: So, Michael, we're all talking about Donald Sterling, but what happens to Shelly and his son-in-law Eric who are also owners of the team?

We're all focused on Sterling, and if they bring this action, does it affect the entire ownership or just him as an individual?

MCCANN: Yeah, Mel, that's a great question. My understanding is that any sanction that Donald Sterling faces would be limited to him, as he was the one who committed the wrongdoing.

So his wife, Shelly, his son-in-law, others in the family who are active in the organization would be able to continue to run the team.

BANFIELD: OK, so that brings up this whole suspension from being an owner of a franchise, because there are articles that cover that, as well, whether this man is allowed to stay in the club.

There are 30 members of that club, owners, I should say, and then there is Adam Silver, the commissioner. It's effectively a vote. There's procedure. There's evidentiary procedure.

ROBBINS: Yes, there's bylaws under the corporate law and under the --

BANFIELD: There's (inaudible) vote.

ROBBINS: Yeah, so basically what's interesting about this, and, Michael, if you want to weigh in, what it says, according to the bylaws that we saw reported by ESPN and these were dated from 2005, is that the owners have powers, as well.

The owners could decide that they want to vote him out, and basically the language is, if he fails to fulfill a contractual obligation such that has an effect on the NBA or members adversely, my understanding is any single one of the 30 owners, Michael, can initiate a charge.

And then Sterling has five days to respond. And then the commissioner can hold a hearing within 10 days.

And if three-quarters of these owners vote him out, he's out. And if two-thirds vote that they just want to fine him, then he's going to be fined.

Is that your understanding, as well?

MCCANN: That is my understanding. And my understanding is also that Donald Sterling will likely argue, if that process plays out, that the language that's being quoted was designed for financial impropriety, other financial aspects of running a team, not making racist comments, essentially.

The language wasn't designed for this type of situation. He'll argue that for him to lose his team will be outside the scope of the provision, and he would potentially file a lawsuit over that.

So there would be a breach of a contact and then also an antitrust claim, so I think the NBA will tread carefully on this, because I know that there's some concern that the language is being quoted generally doesn't specifically apply to what he did.

BANFIELD: I love the fact that the constitution's requirement has conduct of business on a reasonable and ethical level. I think you could really argue that in this particular case.

P.S., you guys, we haven't even mentioned the leverage that those very strong, you know, articles hold against him, to just say, step down, sell the team, don't make us go through this horribly embarrassing thing, because you will lose.

Can you just put a pin in it and tell me? These are final, he can't challenge -- this is like arbitration.

ROBBINS: This is like arbitration. Whatever Silver says, we're done.

BANFIELD: Yeah, well, whatever Silver says goes apparently, and at 2:00 p.m., Mr. Silver is going to speak publicly about this. It might be one of the bigger watched news conferences in a very long time.

We're not exactly clear what it is he's going to say, but he's got to say something, because the groundswell is getting bigger and louder.

In fact, we're digging even deeper into Donald Sterling and his past as an NBA team owner and as a person. This is not his first run-in with controversy over alleged racism or misogynist comments.

We're going to take you into his history, specifically the lawsuits that man's been facing. Let's just say this. He has spent a lot of money on some very expensive lawyers.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: Well, so many people are outraged over L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling's alleged racist comments. Certainly not everyone is surprised. You'd be amazed at how many people have been hearing this for years.

It's not his first controversy involving race. In fact, when you think about the kind money you've had to spend in your lifetime to deal with logistics or maybe lawyers or maybe settlements, you've got nothing on this man.

Randi Kaye looks into allegations of racism against Sterling that date back more than a decade.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RANDI KAYE, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is how Clippers owner Donald Sterling tried to show he cares about minorities, an ad in the "Los Angeles Times" from 2011 celebrating Black History Month.

Trouble is, the event is slated for March 2nd, Black History Month is February. The event was designed to raise funds for underprivileged children.

PETER KEATING, SENIOR WRITER, ESPN THE MAGAZINE: Nobody ever quite figure out how the Clippers were going to screen kids who were coming to the games for privilege level unless everybody who showed up was black was supposed to be underprivileged.

KAYE: Sterling's strained relationship with minorities started long before that.

In 2003 when 19 tenants sued Sterling for discrimination, he was quoted by an employee explaining why a housing unit sterling owned had an odor.

His explanation, according to ESPN, was, quote, "that's because of all the blacks in this building. They smell. They are not clean.

Later in 2006, the U.S. Department of Justice sued the Clippers owner for housing discrimination at his rental apartments.

According to the lawsuit Sterling and his wife made statements indicating that African- Americans and Hispanics were not desirable tenants.

THOM MROZEK, DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE: We alleged that they did not receive the apartments that they applied for because of their racial background.

KAYE: In 2009, Sterling settled the lawsuit, agreeing to pay victims nearly $3 million.

That same year All-Star basketball legend, Elgin Baylor, took his former boss to court claiming he was fired as Clippers general manager because of his age and his race.

Baylor not only accused Sterling of paying him significantly less because he's black, but also claims Sterling wanted the team to be composed of poor black kids from the South and a white head coach similar to a Southern plantation.

He said Sterling told him repeatedly he was, quote, "giving these poor black kids an opportunity to make a lot of money."

In court, Baylor also claims Sterling brought women into the locker room while players were showering, allegedly commenting, "Look at those beautiful black bodies."

The jury later rejected Baylor's lawsuits.

Yet despite all of that, in 2009, the NAACP in Los Angeles honored Sterling with the Lifetime Achievement Award.

The president of the L.A. chapter of the civil rights group tried to justify it by revealing that Sterling gives as many as 3,000 tickets to youth groups for nearly every Clippers home game.

Next month, Sterling was set to receive another Lifetime Achievement Award from the NAACP, but the group now says it will no longer give him that award

Sterling likes awards so much so he takes out big newspaper ads congratulating himself.

In one such ad published in 2006 in the "L.A. Times," Sterling also pledged $50 million towards a state-of-the-art homeless project for families.

Eight years later, it has yet to be built.

Randy Kaye, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BANFIELD: Well, maybe he thought he need to hang on to that $50 million because the league can really come down hard on him with fines.

Oh, I've got news coming in that's just right now -- we've been giving you the list of the different sponsors that have been jumping ship, and now I can you Adidas is joining that very long list.

CNN can confirm now there are 12 different sponsors that decided to part ways including CarMax, which was the first, Virgin America, State Farm, Red Bull, Sprint, Corona, Kia, Aqua Hydrate, LoanMart, Yokohama Tire Corporation, Chumash Casino Resort.

Adidas apparently has decided it's not going to have any in-arena signage, as I'm being told. That's just part. Also no LED boards, no Jumbotron anymore inside the L.A. Clippers venue.

So, yet again, dropping like flies. We are told, though, those warm-up shirts that have been such a big deal in terms of the players and the statements that they've silently been making, turning those t-shirts inside out, dropping those warm-ups in the center of the court, apparently the Adidas logo will still be on those clothes.

Once again, big announcement coming from Commissioner Adam Silver, expected at 2:00 p.m. Eastern time, a little over an hour, 15 minutes from now.

CNN has its cameras live trained. Are you kidding? Can't wait to hear what this man has to say. He holds a lot of cards.

So keep it right here on CNN, not only for that announcement, but also the severe weather that is just scraping its way across the southern part of this country and the Midwest, tornadoes leaving miles of devastation, the Southeast having to forward photos like this.

So many people with so many heartbreaking stories, and so many so thankful to be alive, but crushed by what they've lost, we're going to take you to the middle of the destruction zone, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: In just two days tornadoes have killed 29 people in this country and it is not over yet. Seventy-five million people are right now under the threat of potential severe weather today from a storm system that's already damaged or destroyed hundreds of homes, including one in Kansas, where the family somehow survived. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CASSIDY SCHOONOVER, MOTHER: This is where - this is where we were, this little bitty space right here. All of us. Right here. I said go, go, go, and they all took off. I got my son from right there and we had time to make it 30 feet around the corner and it was - I mean we felt the house lift. My goodness, that's our whole lives. It could have been so much worse, though. I mean, I'm thankful to have my babies and everybody's OK.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: Yes, thankful and lucky to be alive, especially when I look at these images where you are, Brian Todd, in Athens, Alabama. And I'm peaking over your shoulder and seeing amid all the devastation, Brian, the American spirit prevailing. Just unbelievable imagery.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Ashleigh. These people are very determined to bounce back and to build back. You saw the American flag being put up there. They just took it down a second ago. But now people are just picking through what's left of their home, seeing if they can rebuild. But a lot of them have told us they're not really sure if they can.

This is a neighborhood just off Seven Mile Post Road, just west of Athens. This used to be, as of yesterday at about this time, a complex of single family homes and duplexes. I'm about to go into a home. I don't know if you can tell right now, but I'm pretty much in it. This home just got swept off of its foundations. These things are called joists. They support the floors in these homes. These are pretty heavy beams. But this floor and everything around it just got scraped away by this tornado. And I'm standing in the middle of this home.

You know, there were two people killed in a trailer park not far from here. Officials were telling people in manufactured, prefab homes that are of lighter material that they had to leave, and most of them did. But even in a home like this one, that had a solid foundation, it just wasn't enough. You can see the devastation behind me. And they're just starting to rebuild, but not out of the woods yet, Ashleigh. There are more storms coming. Probably going to hit right at this spot in a couple of hours.

BANFIELD: And all of that debris effectively becomes deadly projectiles. This is always such a crisis after these storms.

Just before I ask you about that, can you just tell me about the home you're in? Do you know if there were people in it at the time the storm hit or if they're OK?

TODD: This particular home, I'm not sure of, Ashleigh. I can tell you that there were people in that home right there that had the roof blown off that there were -- it was a mother and her daughter, son-in- law and a baby were in that home. They all survived it. But they're just lucky to be alive today. They spoke to us earlier. They were very emotional.

We're not sure if anyone was in this home. We are told that some people in this neighborhood did get out. They had a few minutes warning and they got out. They got to churches, other shelters. So this neighborhood didn't seem to experience the mass casualties that were felt elsewhere. There were some injuries. But despite what you see here, most of the people in this neighborhood got out OK.

BANFIELD: And again, if anybody's watching in that area, you know, if the storms and the winds hit again, take shelter early because all of that stuff you're seeing around Brian is so deadly in its own right.

Brian Todd, thank you for that. Brian reporting live for us from Athens.

And if you want to help out, for those who have lost so much, you can do that. CNN will help you. Just log on to cnn.com/impact.

I want to ask you something about your telephone. During the commercial break, just go searching through your phone for a moment, the things that you have in there, because you might be surprised at just how much information you carry with you at any given time in that teeny tiny little phone. Can the police just search your phone without a warrant? The justices are pretty darn interested in this one. In case you're wondering, got some answers for you. Two big cases, in fact, in front of the Supreme Court right now. Both sides of the argument coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: You know, sometimes the simplest questions make the toughest decisions. Case in point, today, at the U.S. Supreme Court, actually two cases in point from men who were charged, tried and convicted of serious crimes, but based in part of evidence that was taken from their cell phones, no search warrant granted or asked for. And today the justices, who aren't exactly known for their technical savvy, heard arguments, arguments pitting Fourth Amendment privacy rights against the need of police to preserve evidence and protect public safety.

It's a critical question in this day and age. And our senior legal analyst, CNN's Jeffrey Toobin, is weighing in from Washington, D.C.

I compiled a very cursory list, my friend, of what you and I and other people have on our smart phones -- calendars, books, diaries, photographs, videos, financial info, medical info, travel records, and maybe, maybe there's some people out there with their last match.com date. So that's a lot when you think about a police officer asking you to hand over your phone without any judge weighing in. And that could change?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: It could, but I wouldn't bet on it. I mean the issue here is this. Is that when you're arrested, it's quite clear that the police can pat you down, they can look for weapons, they can see what you're carrying. The question in this case is, once they find that you have a phone, or some sort of electronic device, can they look at what's on the phone without getting a search warrant first? It's clear they can take whatever's in your pocket, substance, you know, objects. But the question is, can they look at the phone? And this is a Supreme Court that is generally very pro law enforcement and my bet is they are going to say yes, that you don't need a warrant to look at the phone.

BANFIELD: They are all pro law enforcement, sure, I can buy that, but they are also all pro cell phone. My guess is that despite their age or their inclinations towards electronic data, they have smartphones. And I know there was a case not that long ago in which that sort of hit home. Something that hit home for them was it a GPS device that they were arguing over in 2011, that the government lawyers made an argument that, you know what, we track those drug dealers and, hey, you know what, you could get a GPS device put on your phone too, Mr. Justices.

TOOBIN: That's right. That - that was a case --

BANFIELD: They didn't like that.

TOOBIN: That was a case about whether putting a GPS device on a car is the same thing as following a car. Now, you don't need a warrant if you're a cop just to follow a car down the street. The question in that case was, do you need a warrant to attach a GPS device? And the basic conclusion of that case was, yes, you do. You do need a warrant in most circumstances.

This is a little different. Remember, this isn't just random people on the street being asked to surrender their cell phones. These are searches of people who have been arrested. So I think the justices could easily think, well, that's not going to happen to me. And it is true that the police have a much wider latitude in searching people who have been arrested than just random people on the street, which, you know, makes a certain amount of sense.

BANFIELD: OK. I've got 10 seconds left, but you've got to admit, an 18th century phase, the Fourth Amendment, in today's day and age, when you can fit more than the lunar lander had in a calculator, I mean we are so different today. That has to apply.

TOOBIN: That's the challenge with the Constitution, how to apply those principles long after they were written.

BANFIELD: Yes. And how strictly we should be constructionists, which is always the challenge for so many. Jeff Toobin, always good to see you. Thanks for joining us in Washington. Enjoy the argument.

TOOBIN: OK, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: OK. Look forward to seeing you back here. Jeffrey Toobin joining us live.

And you know who else is going to join us live, is Wolf Blitzer. He's going to take over. His program starts right now. Thanks for watching.