The Dodgers' Divorce War Gets Nastier
The session centered on Jamie McCourt's request for nearly $1 million per month in spousal support and legal fees, a figure that Sorrell Trope, one of Frank's attorneys, labeled "obscene." Trope later said Mr. McCourt is willing to give his estranged wife a monthly payment of $150,000.
With both McCourts in attendance and a phalanx of TV satellite trucks parked outside a Los Angeles County Superior Court building, Dennis Wasser, a noted L.A. divorce lawyer and Jamie's lead attorney, referenced Passover, the Jewish holiday which begins Monday night, in his remarks. "How is this case different from all other cases?" he asked, alluding to a line that's recited at the beginning of the seder, the traditional Passover meal.
He then proceeded with a detailed attack on Frank's finances, arguing that Mr. McCourt is claiming to be a "a poor billionaire" and manipulating financial statements in order to avoid providing the support to maintain his wife's standard of living.
Wasser referenced a September 2008 bank statement that listed Frank's net worth at approximately $835 million, as well as a 2009 document that valued the Dodgers at over $2 billion, and contrasted those figures with documents submitted by Frank's attorneys, who claim he is worth $163 million. "You have to be suspicious about what they're telling the court," said Wasser, who has represented Tom Cruise, Steven Spielberg and numerous other high-profile clients in divorce cases.
Wasser noted that Frank's legal team is pursuing a "scorched-earth policy" in order to drive up Jamie's legal fees and force her to liquidate savings. Wasser says Jamie owes his firm nearly $800,000 in attorney bills and that mortgage payments for the couple's seven properties, which are all listed under her name, have not been paid for the month of March.
In response, Trope, the 82-year-old divorce specialist who has argued on behalf of Britney Spears and Cary Grant, tore into Mrs. McCourt's support request, comparing her to Marie Antoinette, the 18th century French monarch. He insinuated that Jamie's lavish spending played a large role in the couple's acrimonious split after 30 years of marriage and scoffed at her request for $10,000 a month to pay a full-time assistant.
He also mocked her stewardship of the couple's four L.A. homes, claiming that she only visits their $27 million compound, which neighbors the Playboy Mansion in the exclusive Holmby Hills neighborhood, to swim in its Olympic-size pool. Moreover, he said, she uses one of the couple's two beachfront Malibu residences merely "to do her laundry."
Trope estimated that Jamie could make nearly $160,000 a month in rental income -- and defray the cost of her legal bills -- if she attempted to lease out the unused properties. "It is a question of prudence," Trope said to Superior Court Commissioner Scott Gordon. "Where are we? This is like 'Alice in Wonderland.' " The final word on spousal support will not be known until well after Opening Day: Both sides have until April 12 to submit supplementary briefs on the matter, after which Commissioner Gordon has 90 days to issue a decision.
The scuffling over payments is just a prelude to the most contentious issue of the divorce: Ownership of the Dodgers. Frank McCourt believes a post-marital agreement signed in 2004, which transferred the couple's residential properties to Jamie and put the Dodgers in his name, makes him the sole owner of the club.
Jamie contends that the agreement was executed unfairly and should be invalidated. In court filings and in Monday's hearing, Jamie's attorneys pointed out that neither spouse expected the agreement to be the defining document in the event of a divorce. Wasser also noted that the Massachusetts lawyer who advised the couple on the agreement was not a family law specialist nor licensed to practice in California.
What neither side debates, however, is that the McCourts utilized the Dodgers as collateral to obtain gargantuan loans from banks, which they then used to purchase multiple homes and fund an extravagant lifestyle. Since purchasing the team for about $400 million in 2004 from Fox, the couple has tapped multiple loans and lines of credit that were tied to the soaring value of club and the 300-plus acres around Dodger Stadium. "These people have lived their life on borrowed money," admitted Trope. "You can't continue to borrow money unless you have a way of paying it back. At some point it has to stop -- the party is over."
Last year, in an effort to bolster their cash reserves, the couple sought out an additional $125 million in higher-interest "mezzanine financing" from Bank of America. The loan was to be secured by the club's projected attendance revenue in future seasons. The financing effort was scuttled last October because of the "extracurricular" distractions related to the McCourts' divorce, according to deposition testimony from Jeffrey Ingram, Frank McCourt's primary banker.
According to figures agreed to by both sides, the Dodgers actually lost money in 2009, a surprising fact given the extra revenue from the team's postseason run to the National League Championship Series. (The club also did not have to pay a portion of outfielder Manny Ramirez's $20 million salary after he was suspended 50 games for failing a drug test.) The team turned an annual profit from 2004 through 2006, the first three years of the McCourts' ownership, and more or less broke even in 2007 and 2008.
In interviews this offseason, Frank McCourt has insisted that the divorce will have no bearing on the Dodgers' payroll or willingness to spend for players.