LOS ANGELES – In a reversal of his tentative ruling, a judge says Kawhi Leonard can be deposed by lawyers for a man who sued the Los Angeles Clippers and Jerry West, alleging he is owed $2.5 million for helping the team sign the injured small forward.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Jon R. Takasuki issued a final ruling Friday, stating that his change of heart came during arguments Tuesday when a lawyer for plaintiff Johnny Wilkes stated that Leonard had made public statements about the case and his reasons for joining the team.
“This has nothing to do with me swaying my mind to go somewhere,” Leonard said, the judge wrote. “I’m from L.A. and I grew up here my whole life and out here people try to find any way to get some money, so he (Wilkes) probably won’t be the last. I know a lot of people out here.”
Given that Leonard has already made public statements that Wilkes played no role in his decision to sign with the Clippers, the plaintiff’s lawyers are entitled to “cross-examine Mr. Leonard’s proffered reasons,” the judge wrote.
Takasugi — who took the case under submission after Tuesday’s arguments — directed that attorneys for the Clippers and team consultant Jerry West provide a date for Leonard’s deposition within 30 days.
In his tentative ruling, Takasugi had said Wilkes’ own words appeared to undermine his lawyers’ claims that the star player’s deposition is necessary.
“(Wilkes) has expressly admitted that he never spoke to Leonard about any aspect of the alleged contract with West,” Takasugi had said in the tentative ruling, and he added that other witnesses should be deposed first.
Wilkes alleges in his suit brought in December 2020 that he and West reached a verbal deal in 2019 in which Wilkes would provide the Clippers with information to lure Leonard to Los Angeles, taking advantage of the plaintiff’s close relationship with Leonard and the player’s uncle, Dennis Robertson.
But Robertson said in a sworn declaration in January that neither he nor Leonard knew that Wilkes claimed to have entered into a verbal agreement with West until the plaintiff sued.
“(Wilkes) was not invited to and did not participate in any of the meetings or negotiations that Kawhi Leonard had with any NBA team,” Robertson said. “Nor did (he) play any role in Mr. Leonard’s decision to sign with the Clippers.”
Robertson, who lives and works on the East Coast, further says he met Wilkes in high school about 40 years ago and that the two occasionally spoke by phone or text. They also sometimes saw each other in Los Angeles and Wilkes met Leonard because of the player’s relationship to Robertson, the uncle says.
Robertson says he has never sought or received advice from Wilkes regarding Leonard’s NBA career or business opportunities, nor did Wilkes offer any such counsel to him.
“In addition, I am not aware of (Wilkes) having any discussions with Kawhi Leonard about his basketball career or business opportunities,” Robertson says.
Contrary to what Wilkes has said, he and Robertson have never been “business associates,” nor was Wilkes a “center of influence” for Leonard, according to Robertson.
“Rather, (Wilkes) is simply someone that I have known for many years,” Robertson says.
Robertson said Leonard has nothing relevant to offer in any deposition testimony.
“Because I had interactions with (Wilkes) and Mr. Leonard did not, I do not believe Mr. Leonard has any relevant testimony regarding (Wilkes’ claims,” Robertson says.
Wilkes also maintains in his suit that he told the Clippers they should pursue Paul George to join Leonard on the team.
Attorneys for West and the Clippers stated in their court papers that Wilkes has refused to depose Robertson and instead “seeks to leapfrog Robertson and depose Leonard, who is a non-party to this litigation. There is no reason for the court to allow this unnecessary and abusive discovery tactic.”
Leonard, 30, underwent surgery last July to repair a partially torn right ACL he suffered earlier in a second round series with the Utah Jazz and could return to play before the end of the current season.