Jamie McCourt Wins Court Ruling, but Dodgers' Ownership Situation Unresolved
The decision further clouds the future ownership of the Dodgers and could very well pave the way to a sale of the iconic franchise, as both McCourts jockey for negotiation leverage in one of most expensive divorces in California history.
The 100-page ruling, issued on Tuesday by Judge Scott Gordon, does not make Jamie the co-owner of the Dodgers, and it is officially a "tentative" decision that does not become final until after Gordon has had a chance to review comments from both sides' attorneys. The deadline for his final verdict is Jan. 18.
Frank's attorneys responded to Tuesday's news with a promise of more litigation, noting that they believe there's "clear and conclusive" evidence that Frank is the Dodgers' sole owner, and that Jamie has no claim to any stake of the team.
"For Frank, (Tuesday's) decision means more time at the courthouse," said Marc Seltzer, one of Frank McCourt's attorneys, in a statement. "This ruling does nothing to change the ownership of the Dodgers. Even without the marital property agreements in place, Jamie has no rights to the team."
The next step, he wrote, is for the court to divide the couple's considerable assets, which include the Dodgers, side-by-side oceanfront mansions in Malibu and several other luxurious homes. "The facts are crystal clear on this point. The Dodgers are solely in Frank's name," wrote Seltzer.
Jamie McCourt's attorneys, meanwhile, hailed the decision and expressed hope that it would motivate Frank to reach a settlement with Jamie. They would like to see Frank pay her half the value of the family estate, a sum he could generate by selling the Dodgers, either to a third party or to a group of investors that includes Jamie.
FanHouse confirmed earlier reports that Jamie has hired Joseph Ravitch, a former Goldman Sachs partner and veteran sports-business deal maker, to identify potential investors for an ownership group that would buy out Frank's share of the Dodgers. Ravitch has worked on numerous franchise transactions, including the sales of baseball's Texas Rangers and pro basketball's New Jersey Nets and Seattle SuperSonics.
Another possible settlement option would be for Frank to pay Jamie off with an infusion of cash from Fox Sports Networks, which owns the Dodgers' TV rights and whose contract with the club expires after the 2013 season. An extension from Fox -- with a large upfront payment -- would scuttle the McCourts' plans to create a Dodgers-centered regional sports network, but it would also help defray the McCourts' massive debts on the club and pave the way to a settlement.
"This really cries out for a need for Frank to settle this," said Mike Kump, one of Jamie McCourt's lawyers, to FanHouse. "The only way to get there is to sell the Dodgers, and she's in the best position to make that deal happen."
The couple's 11-day trial in September included reams of evidence and hours of testimony about the McCourts' finances and their 2004 purchase of the Dodgers, which they bought from Fox Broadcasting Company for around $430 million. But the only issue actually being decided by Gordon was the validity of the MPA, which was prepared by Larry Silverstein, the couple's former attorney in Boston.
Silverstein later admitted that he doctored the agreement, switching out a section that made the Dodgers community property and replacing it with a page that made Frank the team's sole owner. Frank's attorneys contended that Silverstein's gaffe was an innocent error -- but Gordon disagreed.
"The Court finds that there has not been sufficient evidence presented to indicate which of the two materially inconsistent MPAs represented the actual intent of the parties," Gordon wrote in his ruling, adding that the MPA is "not a valid and enforceable agreement."
Gordon, a former Los Angeles police officer, also had some disapproving words regarding the McCourts' testimony during the trial. On the witness stand, both Frank -- an experienced real-estate executive -- and Jamie, a graduate of MIT's business school and a former family-law attorney, claimed ignorance about marital-property laws and the contents of the pact prepared by Silverstein.
"The testimony of both parties as to their lack of knowledge and attention to the details of the MPA is not credible," wrote Gordon.
Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig has declined to comment on the McCourts' divorce.