As McCourt Trial Ends, a New Chapter of Uncertainty Begins for Dodgers
But underneath all the professional pleasantries, of course, there's still a bitter dispute over who will own the Los Angeles Dodgers going forward, and the prospect of months -- or even years -- of litigation hanging over one of Major League Baseball's jewel franchises. Gordon now has 90 days to issue a decision on the couple's disputed marital property agreement, which purportedly spells out how the couple's assets - including the club, Dodger Stadium, and more than 300 acres surrounding the ballpark -- are to be divided in a divorce. The couple signed two conflicting versions of the MPA: one version gives Frank sole ownership of the team, while the other makes the Dodgers "community property" that's to be owned equally by both McCourts.
Neither side appears optimistic that a settlement can be reached before Gordon decides on the status of the MPA, even after lawyers for both spouses attended day-long meetings with a mediator last week. Another mediation session is scheduled to take place in on Oct. 9, but extended litigation has been the McCourts' modus operandi for much of their adult lives. The couple battled through nearly 20 years of lawsuits to acquire and develop a valuable 24-acre parcel of land in South Boston, which they later mortgaged -- and ultimately gave up -- to obtain massive loans to purchase the Dodgers from News Corp in 2004.
The McCourts' attorneys returned to familiar themes on Wednesday. Jamie's side, led by L.A. divorce specialist Dennis Wasser, repeatedly honed in on the conduct of Larry Silverstein, the couple's former lawyer in Boston, who admitted he doctored the signed and notarized version of the MPA that made the Dodgers community property. Mrs. McCourt's lawyers handed out copies of the PowerPoint presentation they presented in court, which included sections entitled "Hurdles Frank Cannot Overcome" and "Smoking Guns."
They contend that Silverstein's "switcheroo" was fraudulent and that he "reverse engineered" his testimony to cover up the mistake and his conflict of interest in representing both McCourts on the MPA. "At best, this was the blind leading the blind," Wasser said, citing the fact that Silverstein was poorly-versed in California family law. "At worse, it was the blind misleading the blind."
Wasser reiterated his point that the MPA was intended to protect the couple's homes from business creditors and to uphold the same marital property rights the McCourts had when they lived in Boston. In Massachusetts, assets acquired during a marriage are divided equally in a divorce, regardless of who holds title. The McCourts, who met at Georgetown University and were married in 1979, had a long-standing practice of putting their businesses in Frank's name and making Jamie the sole title-holder of their homes.
It is also Jamie's argument that she would never have signed any agreement forfeiting her rights to the Dodgers. The couple "always believed that the empire they built belonged to both of them," said Wasser. "This must fail, it doesn't make sense, no way."
After lunch, three of Frank's attorneys took turns in front of Judge Gordon, including an extended -- and occasionally humorous -- contribution from Sorrell Trope, the 83-year-old family law veteran who has represented Cary Grant, Nicole Kidman, and more recently, Elin Nordegren, Tiger Woods' ex-wife. Responding to Wasser's critique that Frank's lawyers cited outdated lawsuits in their trial briefs, Trope reminded the court that he graduated law school in 1949 and did not believe laws established in that era to be obsolete. "I'm not ever going to be over the hill," he quipped, eliciting a few laughs. "I haven't read anything that says a case should be disregarded just because it's an old case."
As they did during much of the trial, Frank's attorneys hammered away at Jamie's credibility, arguing that she never wanted to be the legal owner or primary financial stakeholder in the Dodgers – and that the MPA was her idea, not Frank's. Victoria Cook, the last of Frank's lawyers to speak, said it was all-but-impossible to believe that Mrs. McCourt, who practiced as a family law attorney in Boston and received an MBA from MIT's Sloan School of Business, didn't understand what she was signing. "If Jamie McCourt, Esquire, is not bound by the [marital property agreement], then realistically no one ever would be," said Cook, who also chided Jamie for claiming she did not read the MPA closely.
"Justice may be blind," Cook told the court, "but it does not reward those who refuse to see."
Frank's side made several attempts to take the focus off Silverstein, whose blunder may ultimately result in massive malpractice litigation brought against him and his firm Bingham McCutchen, the Boston-based firm that also represents the Dodgers. Steve Susman, Frank's lead attorney, criticized Jamie's side for creating a "'Lynch Larry' atmosphere" and said Silverstein's error should not be relevant because the switch was made -- according to Frank's side -- simply to correct a mistake. The couple's intention, Susman said, was always to insulate Jamie from any risk associated with owning the Dodgers or the couple's other businesses.
"What sense does it make to have this agreement and exclude everything that Frank owns," asked Susman rhetorically. "It's the most illogical thing I've ever heard."
For Dodgers fans, there's little hope for any resolution before Christmas -- or well into baseball's busy offseason, when team owners are often a critical component in wooing free agents. (Baseball's Winter Meetings are scheduled to take place Dec. 6-9 in Orlando.)
No matter how Judge Gordon rules, the losing McCourt is expected to appeal.