A man who sued the Los Angeles Clippers and Jerry West, alleging he is owed $2.5 million for helping the NBA team sign Kawhi Leonard, will have to wait at least a day to know whether his lawsuit can proceed with all its current allegations after a judge took the case under submission Monday.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Jon R. Takasugi heard arguments that largely focused on whether plaintiff Johnny Wilkes allegedly had a verbal agreement with the Clippers and West to convince Leonard to come to the Clippers or whether Wilkes was merely giving information to the defendants about how to succeed in obtaining the 6-foot-7 star forward. The judge said he will have a final ruling in a day or two.
Wilkes alleges in the suit filed Dec. 14 that he and West reached a verbal deal in 2019 in which Wilkes would provide the Clippers with suggestions on how to sign Leonard, taking advantage of the plaintiff’s close relationship with the athlete and the latter’s uncle, Dennis Robertson.
Wilkes also maintains he told the Clippers they should pursue Paul George to join Leonard on the team.
Lawyers for the Clippers and the 83-year-old West, who joined the team as a consultant in 2017, deny Wilkes’ allegations and in February they moved to dismiss the suit.
In a split tentative ruling issued Thursday, Takasugi said he was leaning toward allowing Wilkes to proceed on alleged causes of action for breach of contract, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, intentional infliction of emotional distress and that Wilkes relied on a promise to his detriment.
Takasugi said the alleged causes of action that need more support are those for intentional misrepresentation, negligent misrepresentation, false promise and unfair business practices. His tentative ruling was to give Wilkes’ lawyers 20 days to file an amended complaint.
During Monday’s arguments, Attorney Duane R. Lyons, on behalf of the Clippers and West, took issue with a sentence in the tentative ruling in which the judge wrote that Wilkes alleges that he entered into an oral agreement with the Clippers to convince Leonard to sign with the team.
According to Lyons, the lawsuit alleges Wilkes did not promise to convince Leonard of anything, but only to provide assistance to the Clippers in signing him. But the help Wilkes allegedly offered is never fully developed and so the pleading is “impermissibly vague,” Lyons told the judge.
But Wilkes’ attorney, Kenechi R. Agu, told Takasugi that West and the Clippers were “well aware of Mr. Wilkes’ connections to Kawhi Leonard.”
“All along they were thanking Mr. Wilkes for his help, they were leaning on him,” Agu said.
The Clippers and West knew that they could face a large tampering fine if they spoke directly with Leonard, who was under contract with the Toronto Raptors at the time, Agu said.
In his court papers, Lyons states that Wilkes’ own deposition testimony demonstrates how the lack of clarity in his contract claim.
“Did you tell Jerry West that you would do anything for $2.5 million?,” Wilkes was asked by a defense attorney.
The plaintiff replied, “At that time, no,” according to the defense attorneys’ court papers.
However, in his tentative ruling the judge said Wilkes’ deposition testimony “does not establish an admission by plaintiff that no agreement was ever entered into for $2.5 million and the exhibits submitted showing plaintiff requesting a cash infusion to a nonprofit or trust do not conclusively establish that plaintiff did not provide services to defendants in exchange for $2.5 million dollars.”
Accepted as true at this early stage, Wilkes’ allegations could show that a verbal agreement was entered into wherein he was to convince Leonard to sign with the Clippers to circumvent NBA tampering rules, that Wilkes performed under this agreement, that West and the Clippers failed to pay Wilkes and that he has been damaged as result, Takasugi wrote.