McCourt Divorce Trial Resumes as Jamie Has Rough Outing on Stand
Manager Joe Torre just quit, the team is slumping its way to a losing season and the club's former owner, Peter O'Malley, recently called for the franchise to be sold, saying the team's current ownership had "lost all credibility" with the city.
And in case you forgot, Frank McCourt, the embattled current owner, is still battling his estranged wife Jamie for control of the Dodgers in a hotly-contested divorce trial that resumed Monday in Los Angeles County Superior Court.
The key issue in this phase of the divorce proceeding is the status of a marital property agreement the couple signed on March 31, 2004, shortly after they purchased the club from News Corp for nearly $430 million. Frank believes the MPA makes him the sole owner of the Dodgers in the event of a divorce, while Jamie contends that it should be invalidated because the couple signed two conflicting versions of the document.
Monday's session began with a bang, literally: Jamie's assistant hit a pedestrian with her car near a crosswalk in front of the courthouse, just before the trial began at 8:30 a.m. PT. Mrs. McCourt was in the vehicle at the time, but was not delayed getting to Judge Scott Gordon's second-floor courtroom. (An ambulance was called to help the pedestrian, but the injuries apparently were not serious.)
Jamie spent the entire day on the stand, engaging in several hours of verbal sparring with Steve Susman, Frank's lead attorney. It is Jamie's contention that the couple's former Boston lawyer, Larry Silverstein, never explained the MPA in detail, that neither she nor Frank read it carefully, and that she never would have signed any document that gave up her rights to the Dodgers in a divorce.
One version of the MPA gives Frank sole ownership of the Dodgers in the event of a divorce; another version, also signed by Frank and Jamie, specifically excludes the team from Frank's control, and makes the Dodgers "community property" that belongs equally to both McCourts.
At the center of the MPA confusion is Silverstein. He cannot be compelled to come to California to testify, but is nonetheless expected to take the witness stand on Tuesday. Jamie's side argues that Silverstein's firm pulled an illegal "switcheroo" of the MPA, thereby invalidating any version of the agreement. Susman says the discrepancy between the versions was the result of an innocuous "clerical" error made by Silverstein.
On Monday, Susman attacked Mrs. McCourt's professed naivete regarding the MPA and California marital property law. He repeatedly cited her legal experience -- she practiced as an attorney for over a decade -- and her MBA from MIT's Sloane School of Business. "Stop me if I get to a term that's unfamiliar to you as a lawyer and MBA holder," he told her at one point. During several moments, he appeared exasperated -- even dumbfounded -- by Jamie's repeated claims of confusion about legal terminology. In deposition testimony taken before the trial, Jamie testified that in recent years she rarely read legal documents carefully because they were "boring" and "over my head."
In court, Susman asked her -- with a strong hint of sarcasm -- if she understood what the word "relinquish" meant. He also spent an extended stretch going through the MPA in detail with her, in an effort to show that the consequences of the document were clearly defined.
"As a lawyer, you do know that choosing not to read something is not a legal defense?" asked Susman. "I don't know," Jamie responded.
After court, Susman said Jamie's testimony was "as fictional as "Harry Potter." Victoria Cook, one of Frank's other lawyers, said "it was a particularly bad day for lawyers to have someone with [Jamie's] educational background say she didn't understand basic terms in a contract."
Mrs. McCourt's testimony also included more unflattering glimpses of the couple's private life. Jamie wrote down notes about her daily routine on small index cards -- jotting down details about everything from a dinner at Manny Mota's house to a conversation with Frank about selling a stake in the Dodgers.
On Monday, Susman cited the notecard she wrote on March 31, 2004, the day the couple signed the disputed MPA. The card had no details about the document, but noted that the couple's private jet to Los Angeles was forced to stop in Cedar Rapids, Iowa -- a stop that "freaked" Mr. McCourt out and prompted him to yell at Jamie repeatedly, according to the card. Jamie even had a shorthand for "yell at me," abbreviating it as "YAM."
The trial has already exposed numerous embarrassing and controversial details about the McCourts' ownership, including revelations that they paid themselves more than $100 million through distributions from the team and loans backed by Dodgers-related entities.
According to court documents, the McCourts also paid both of their sons large annual salaries -- $400,000 and $200,000, respectively -- for work that has never been defined, and had a long-term business plan that included dramatically higher ticket prices and sharp reductions in player payroll and baseball operations.