As one of the colorful cast of characters in a trial over the
minutiae of a family trust and California probate law, the
85-year-old attorney to some of Hollywood's biggest players over the
last five decades appears to relish his role as the adversary of
Donald Sterling, the man banned for life by the NBA over racist
"Bert Fields is one of those lawyers who is in his element in the
courtroom," said Steven Weisburd, a Texas civil litigator who has
been part of legal teams that have opposed Fields.
"He loves it, he thrives on it, and he's excellent at it," Weisburd
Fields, who has a reputation for making a witness' time on the stand
miserable, may get another shot to examine Sterling as the
80-year-old real estate billionaire could testify again when his own
attorneys start their case in Los Angeles Superior Court on Monday.
Sterling's wife, Shelly Sterling, has asked the court to confirm her
authority to sell the Clippers to former Microsoft Corp Chief
Executive Steve Ballmer under a clause in the family trust. Sterling
says he was defrauded by his wife and her attorneys and can veto the
In their first go-round a combative Sterling, also a lawyer,
bellowed at Fields, an attorney for his wife, challenging the
pugnacious litigator, who has represented the likes of Tom Cruise,
Dustin Hoffman and studio head Jeffrey Katzenberg.
"It shows you the meanness of this guy and the hypocrisy that is
just all over this man," Fields told reporters after Sterling's
testimony. "But what this guy did ... was to show you the real
Donald Sterling, warts and all."
Fields, who declined to comment for this report, also got in his own
jab: "Is this a guy you'd employ to sell hamburgers?"
The trim, silver-haired attorney then quietly left the media scrum,
took off his tie and watched with a smile as Sterling's lawyers
addressed the media.
"Some people might think he's arrogant, and other people think he's
exquisite," Weisburd said.
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Fields' ability to control his tone, even in tense courtroom
quarrels, is one of his defining qualities, according to attorneys
who sparred against him.
"He's an ultimate gentleman and a worthy opponent," said Elizabeth
McNamara, a first amendment attorney who opposed Fields when Cruise
sued a magazine publisher over a story.
"I really think he does love the courtroom ... His clients love him,
and he commands a huge amount of respect from the bench," she added.
What also distinguishes Fields, said McNamara and Weisburd, are his
preparation, and ability to shine, when stakes are highest.
Several of Fields' past opponents declined to speak on the record
about him on the grounds that they might find themselves sparring
with the octogenarian once again.
(Editing by Mary Milliken and Clarence Fernandez)
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