Buss brothers deny trying to remove Jeanie Buss as controlling owner

ByRamona Shelburne ESPN logo
Saturday, March 4, 2017

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 The restraining order was subsequently withdrawn when the judge set a preliminary hearing for the trial for May 15.

The notice for the shareholders meeting was also rescinded by the Buss brothers, and the meeting for next week was canceled.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.

Information from ESPN's Baxter Holmes and The Associated Press was used in this report.

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