“I must also point out that Jim has already proven to be completely unfit even in an executive vice president of basketball operations role and I recently had to replace him,” Jeanie Buss said in the document.
The four-page declaration from Buss was attached to her motion for a temporary restraining order and provided a window into the struggle for control of the team. She wanted to prevent Jim Buss and their brother Johnny from holding a meeting next week to vote on a new board of directors for the Lakers.
Jeanie Buss wasn’t among the four directors the brothers proposed: themselves, AEG President Dan Beckerman and investor Romie Chaudhari. She argued that violated the four trusts that govern the family’s 66% stake in the team. The trusts mandate that Jeanie Buss be the controlling owner.
Attorneys for Jeanie Buss withdrew the request for a temporary restraining order Friday after the brothers signed a document the night before reelecting their sister as controlling owner. Adam Streisand, an attorney for Jeanie Buss, said he does not believe that resolved the broader issue of her place on the board. A trial is scheduled for May 15.
Last month, she fired Jim Buss and installed Magic Johnson as president of basketball operations, part of wide-ranging changes in the front office.
“Despite the fact that I gave my brother Jim ample time to prove himself in his role … I could not allow the damage being done to the franchise over the past few years to continue,” the declaration said.
Jeanie Buss also expressed concern in the declaration that if the brothers chose a new controlling owner, the person would fire Johnson and “cause irreversible damage to the Lakers team and to the brand.”
She has declined to comment because of the ongoing litigation; Jim Buss has not returned a phone message seeking comment.
|Jeanie Buss fired her brother Jim as executive vice president of basketball operations and replaced him with Lakers legend Magic Johnson on Feb. 21. (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)|
Buss brothers deny trying to remove Jeanie Buss as controlling owner
LOS ANGELES -- Lakers president and co-owner Jeanie Buss has thwarted a legal attempt by her older brothers, Johnny and Jim Buss, to strip her of her seat on the Lakers' board of directors, and potentially her controlling ownership of the NBA team.
On Feb. 24, the elder Buss brothers sent a notice to the Lakers' shareholders to hold a meeting next Tuesday to elect a new board of directors, because it had been more than 15 months since the annual shareholders meeting had been convened, documents filed by Jim and Johnny Buss' attorneys say.
In that notice, the brothers submitted a list of four names for the three Buss family spots on the board of five directors, none of which was Lakers governor Jeanie Buss or her younger brother Joey Buss, the team's alternate governor.
According to documents filed Friday, Jeanie Buss and her attorneys interpreted that action as hostile and in breach of the elder brothers' fiduciary responsibilities as co-trustees to "take whatever actions are reasonably available to have Jeanie Buss appointed as the new Controlling Owner" of the Lakers.
The lawyers for Jeanie Buss filed a temporary restraining order in Los Angeles Superior Court on Friday and a lawsuit to force the elder brothers to comply with the mandatory terms of the family trust. The restraining order was subsequently withdrawn when the judge set a preliminary hearing for the trial for May 15.
The notice for the shareholders meeting was also rescinded by the Buss brothers, and the meeting for next week was canceled.
"I want to make sure that they don't try to do this thing again," Jeanie Buss' lawyer Adam Streisand told ESPN. "No one wants to go through this again. We just want the team and the fans to have the stability and the success they deserve."
Robert Sacks, a lawyer for Jim and Johnny Buss who was reached by ESPN on Friday night, denied the brothers were trying to have Jeanie removed as controlling owner, insisting that they had voted to re-elect her as controlling owner in legal documents signed Thursday.
He would not comment directly on why they had sent a letter with four new names for the board of directors election next week, saying that the issue in court on Friday was related to controlling ownership of the club, not vote for the board of directors.
Lakers bylaws stipulate that the controlling owner must also be on the board of directors. The bylaws were filed in court Friday, along with the four trusts that own the Buss family shares.
"I can tell you that both Jim Buss and Johnny Buss had hoped that any issues that might arise would be handled within the family," Sacks said. "This week, we had a call from Jeanie's lawyers saying that we were somehow going to oust her as the controlling owner of the Lakers. We informed her lawyers orally and in writing that Jim and Johnny fully support Jeanie as the controlling owner of the Lakers. And then inexplicably she then rushed into court saying they're trying to oust me as the controlling owner.
"I can tell you, Jim Buss and Johnny Buss, as the co-trustees, who vote shares in the Lakers, support Jeanie as the controlling owner," Sacks reiterated. "We got notice yesterday that she was going into court, and going in today for a restraining order and other relief. Yesterday, we'd already confirmed it, both Jim Buss and Johnny Buss signed a formal corporate document that voted the trust shares to re-elect Jeanie as the controlling owner. I guess that's what -- belt, suspenders and duct tape?"
Dr. Jerry Buss' six children co-own 66 percent of the Lakers in trust. The three trustees are Jeanie, Johnny and Jim Buss.
"This is about Dr. Buss' intention, Dr. Buss' directive that it's to be Jeanie and Jeanie alone is the controlling owner of the Lakers," Streisand said. "We're going to ask the court to uphold his wishes. It couldn't be clearer, in black and white, that this was his intent."
Lakers coach Luke Walton said he didn't understand the situation well enough to comment, adding that he plans to just focus on basketball.
Asked about the family turmoil, Walton said, "Stuff that's not in my control I don't spend much time thinking about."
NBA spokesman Mike Bass affirmed Jeanie Buss' role with the Lakers in a statement.
"Jeanie Buss is the sole Governor of the Los Angeles Lakers and under league rules, she has control over the team," the statement said. "She has not only been a terrific leader for the Lakers organization, guiding the business before and after her father's passing, but an incredibly influential voice among all our team owners."
Last week, Jeanie Buss replaced her brother Jim as president of the Lakers' basketball operations with Hall of Famer Magic Johnson.
The Lakers have to vote on a board of directors and controlling owner every year, sources told ESPN. Since 2013 -- the year of Dr. Buss' death -- there have been three votes to affirm Jeanie as controlling owner. This year's vote has not yet taken place.
The names submitted by the older brothers last week were Jim Buss, Johnny Buss, Dan Beckerman from Anschutz Entertainment Group and Romie Chaudhari, a property investor who was appointed to the board of the Swansea City Football Club last year following a boardroom shakeup. The other two spots on the Lakers' board of directors are controlled by minority owner Phil Anschutz.
NBA rules state one owner must be designated as a franchise's controlling owner. Streisand contends that the trust states Jeanie Buss should remain as the Lakers' controlling owner, and therefore she also must always retain a seat on the board of directors.
In stopping her brothers' attempted takeover, Jeanie Buss shows she's in charge of Lakers — for now
Just when it appeared Jeanie Buss had finally cleaned house, the Lakers palace is suddenly under attack, from inside the walls, in an attempted coup as insidious as it is sad.
Two scorned and forgotten men are coming after her crown in an effort filled with bitterness and reeking of desperation. That these men are her two older brothers is enough to make the memory of patriarch Jerry Buss weep.
Two weeks ago, Jeanie Buss removed Jim Buss as the Lakers’ basketball boss, and now he apparently wants revenge.
Several years ago, Johnny Buss disappeared from the headlines after a shaky ownership experience with the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks, and now he apparently wants relevancy.
Neither Jim nor Johnny wants their sister to run the Lakers, and scheduled a shareholders meeting next week to dethrone her before her lawyers ended the threat Friday in the best defense the Lakers have played all year.
Yeah, the only thing missing from this latest act is a play-by-play call from Shakespeare.
It can all be found in court documents first reported by The Los Angeles Times on Friday afternoon, when the brothers at least temporarily backed down after attorneys for Jeanie Buss sought a temporary restraining order in Los Angeles Superior Court.
What they were attempting to restrain was the coup, which was set to take place at a March 7 shareholder meeting. According to court documents, Jim and Johnny Buss were going to use that meeting to alter the list of Lakers directors to exclude Jeanie, which means she could no longer serve as the team’s controlling owner.
This move would go against the legally stated wishes of their late father Jerry, who made it clear she would be the controlling owner upon his death in February of 2013.
When finally taken to court Friday, the older Buss brothers raised a white flag and canceled the meeting, but a probate trial has been scheduled for May, and Jeanie Buss’ fight to maintain control may have just begun.
“This is no doubt the beginning and not the end of the game-playing,’’ said Adam Streisand, the attorney for Jeanie Buss.
Robert Sacks, an attorney for the Buss brothers, claimed there were “no issues” and said that Jeanie Buss had, “inexplicably rushed to court.’’
But court documents reveal that the threat was real, and the brothers’ quest was only stopped by the real possibility of legal action, and there is nothing to stop them from trying again.
Streisand was the lawyer who helped engineer the Steve Ballmer purchase of the Clippers. Now, in a very real way, he is being asked to save the Lakers.
No, you don’t want Jim Buss back running a franchise he nearly ruined. As for Johnny Buss, he is best known these days for JBU Photo, a photo studio that, according to his online portfolio, produces artsy photos of half-naked women.
Neither man seems capable of running a basketball team, which makes one think there must be more to this than basketball.
Maybe it’s a money grab. Maybe they are trying to get the other four members of the Buss clan who combine to own 66% of the team to buy them out of their share. Johnny is 60, Jim is 57, and a big chunk of money now at this stage of their lives might be preferable to waiting for yearly dividend checks, even if those checks are about $10 million annually these days.
Or maybe it’s a jealousy thing. Maybe because they are older, the brothers thought the controlling interest should have been left to them. After all, Jim showed an envious streak a couple of years ago when he refused to rehire Phil Jackson while Jackson and Jeanie were engaged.
Or maybe both men are upset with Jeanie’s decision to replace Jim Buss with her longtime ally Magic Johnson without a thorough search. Since the shareholder’s meeting was set up just three days after the Johnson hiring, maybe this was a response to what they both felt was a lack of due diligence.
Whatever it is, this is not just Jeanie Buss’ nightmare, but the fear of every Lakers fan. Since the death of Jerry Buss, everyone has wondered if the legendarily eccentric family could find a way to survive the tough times. Without their glue, how would they be able to stick together?
It turns out, not very well. And, regrettably, few people on the NBA landscape are actually surprised.
What happened in a downtown courtroom Friday plays into every tired stereotype about the dysfunctional, chaotic, looney tunes Lake Show. It devalues the real progress made by Jeanie Buss in recent weeks to return credibility to the brand. For potential free agents, it is a cloud that could even darken Magic Johnson’s best recruiting smile.
And like Streisand said, it’s not over with yet. The older Buss brothers are surely going to keep coming for their sister’s crown, with buckets of money and teams of lawyers and attacks from all directions. If they can find a loophole in their father’s wishes, they will find it, and only a victory in probate court will end the struggle.
However, if it was the older Buss brothers’ intention to weaken their sister with this initial strike, they have failed. In filing the restraining order request Friday, Jeanie Buss heard the swords outside her door and acted swiftly to silence them. It was the second powerful move in the last two weeks by a powerful woman who is clearly done sitting quietly in her Staples Center seat.
On a day when it was revealed that her entire authority was under attack, Jeanie Buss was unquestionably in charge. Now more than ever, for the Lakers to continue to pull themselves out of the madness, she has to remain that way.