McCourt Mediation Talks Scheduled to Begin Friday
FanHouse has confirmed that lawyers for both spouses have agreed to appear on Friday before Peter Lichtman, a Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge who would serve as a mediator, in an effort to settle the marital dissolution that has crippled the management of the Los Angeles Dodgers, the iconic Major League Baseball franchise purchased by the McCourts in 2004. The divorce proceeding has already revealed numerous unflattering details about the couple and their management of the club, which is suffering through a losing season after two consecutive trips to the National League Championship Series.
There have been previous attempts to settle, including scheduled talks earlier this year in New York and Colorado, but those discussions never bore much fruit. In the past, Jamie's legal team was unwilling to agree to any of Frank's conditions for negotiations -- one of which, apparently, was to have Judge Lichtman supervise the mediation, according to a person familiar with the situation.
Now, however, Jamie's side has apparently had a change of heart, though it's unclear which side restarted the settlement discussions during a break in the trial on Monday. The decision to go ahead with mediation was formalized on Tuesday during a session in the chambers of Judge Scott Gordon, who has presided over the case since Jamie filed for divorce in October of last year.
Spokesmen for both spouses' legal teams declined to comment on the mediation talks, which were first reported by Yahoo! Sports late Tuesday night.
The news about a possible settlement caps an intense day in the proceeding, which has riveted Southern California and is being closely watched throughout the sports world. On Tuesday morning, in the trial's most contentious exchange yet, Jamie's attorney David Boies lit into Larry Silverstein, the McCourts' former attorney in Boston, loudly questioning him about his role in altering the couple's 2004 marital property agreement.
The MPA is the key document in the trial because it spells out how the couple's assets are to be divided in a divorce. Frank McCourt 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.
Silverstein is at the vortex of the MPA dispute, since he prepared the various copies of the agreement that both spouses signed. The big problem: certain copies of the MPA included language giving Frank control of the Dodgers in a divorce, while other copies made the team "community property," thereby splitting the team equally between both spouses.
On the witness stand Tuesday, Silverstein conceded that he altered three signed and notarized copies of the MPA, taking out the section that made the team community property and replacing it with a page that gave Frank sole ownership of the the Dodgers in a divorce. Silverstein made the change without alerting either Frank or Jamie, a controversial -- and possibly illegal -- move that Boies drilled home in Judge Gordon's second-floor courtroom.
In deposition testimony and in court on Tuesday, Silverstein contended that discrepancy between the copies was the result of a drafting error -- and added that "in certain circumstances," it was OK to alter a legal document that has been signed and notarized.
Raising his voice consistently for the first time in the trial, Boies grilled Silverstein about doctoring the final version of the MPA.
"You realize, as a lawyer, that after a document has been signed and notarized, neither party has the right to change it, even if they believe it was a mistake, correct?" Boies asked. "Correct," responded Silverstein, a partner at Bingham McCutchoen and a graduate of Dartmouth College and Harvard Law School.
"And you never told your client, Jamie McCourt, that you were making the changes to the final document, did you?" said Boies, wearing his trademark blue sports coat and red tie. After initially responding that he "indirectly" told Jamie McCourt of the switch, Silverstein admitted that he had never alerted anyone. "I thought it was a drafting error that needed to be cleaned up," he explained.
Silverstein, who reportedly experienced dizziness during his earlier deposition sessions, is under doctor's orders to testify in half-day intervals, and was excused after lunch. He is scheduled to take the stand again Wednesday morning, even with mediation talks scheduled for the end of the week.
If Judge Lichtman is unable to help the sides negotiate a settlement, how Judge Gordon views the conflicting versions of the MPA -- or whether he decides to throw them out altogether -- will have a huge impact on the future ownership of the Dodgers.
If he rules the team to be community property, it's likely that Frank and Jamie would decide to sell rather than share ownership. If Gordon rules the MPA gives Frank sole ownership of the franchise, McCourt could in theory remain on as owner, though he would still likely owe Jamie a huge amount in connection with their divorce. It's unclear whether he has the financial resources to pay her and fund the Dodgers: earlier this year, Frank needed nearly $1.5 million in loans from his brother and a business associate to cover legal bills from the divorce.
Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig has not made any public comment on the case, but last week the Los Angeles Times reported that Selig is uncomfortable with the unseemly revelations in the trial and would like new ownership for the Dodgers by the time he is scheduled to retire as commissioner at the end of 2012.