Clippers owner Donald Sterling on Thursday defended the fire detection system at a West Hollywood apartment building he owns, saying it allowed for the safe evacuation of all residents during a 2009 fire.
Testifying in actress Robyn Cohen's lawsuit against him, the 79-year-old billionaire rejected any blame for her property losses and emotional distress.
"I understand everything was working with one exception and that everyone got out safely," Sterling said. "Everybody heard the alarm go off and the manager went pounding on doors."
Sterling said he could not recall the one flaw in the fire detection system. He also said he was aware that some residents, including Cohen, suffered the loss of personal items due to smoke and water damage.
"I did learn that and I feel bad about that," Sterling said.
Cohen is perhaps best known for being frequently topless in Wes Anderson's comedy-drama The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, which starred Bill Murray, Owen Wilson and Anjelica Huston.
The blaze occurred Sept. 28, 2009, in the 54-unit apartment building Sterling owns at 888 W. Knoll Drive. Cohen alleges Sterling failed to keep the building in a habitable condition and that the alarm system was not operating properly at the time of the fire, which was caused by an electrical problem in a heater fan in another unit.
Kim Webster, a former cast member on The West Wing, also lived in the building. She and several other tenants also sued Sterling in Los Angeles Superior Court in January 2010, but settled with him before trial.
Sterling, under questioning from Cohen's lead attorney, Brian Henri, insisted that his staff did all they could to assist the tenants after the fire.
"My staff was instructed to to do anything and everything possible ... to mitigate any damage they had," Sterling said.
Sterling told Henri he bought the building sight-unseen and has never gone to see it. He also said he did not personally direct his staff what to do after the fire.
"I'm retired and I don't talk to any of the staff," Sterling said, adding sarcastically, "Not even you."
Cohen testified Tuesday that she was asked to pay for the following month's rent after the fire even though the city declared the unit uninhabitable. She said she refused and also declined any offer to move into another unit.
Asked by Henri if what Cohen said was true, Sterling said he knew nothing about the allegation.
"I didn't charge her anything," he said. "I never met the woman in my life. I resent you saying that."
Sterling also said he doubted anyone on his staff asked Cohen to pay the extra month's rent.
"I don't believe it's true," Sterling said. "I believe she was very uncooperative and wouldn't tell people what she wanted to do."
Sterling bought the building in 2000 but delegated its operations to the staff and the resident managers, according to his attorney Guy Gruppie.