Tuesday, July 13, 2010
Updated: July 14, 12:08 PM ET
Lawyers dispute McCourt findings
By Molly Knight
ESPN The Magazine
LOS ANGELES -- A lawyer representing Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt said that his client scored a major victory Tuesday in his battle with his estranged wife over control of the team.
Two forensic scientists -- one from each side -- determined that a document at the crux of the battle over Frank and Jamie McCourt's estimated billion-dollar fortune has not been tampered with, according to Stephen Susman, Frank McCourt's chief legal counsel.
However, lawyers for Jamie McCourt say that the findings Tuesday support their client.
The document in question is a postnuptial marital property agreement that put the couple's homes in her name. It was signed on March 31, 2004 -- the day before the McCourts moved from Boston to Los Angeles. The agreement between the two sides ends there.
Frank McCourt maintains the seven-page document -- with two attached schedules on the back dividing their assets -- gave him control of the Dodgers. Jamie denies ever signing away the team in a profile on the couple and their divorce in the next issue of ESPN The Magazine.
The agreement was extracted from a vault at the Boston law firm of Bingham McCutchen and examined by scientists from each team in Los Angeles on Tuesday.
Jamie McCourt's lawyers contend that there are six different copies of the document, and tests show that three of them -- signed at a different time than the other three, the lawyers said -- did not include Schedule A when Jamie McCourt signed them. Schedule A lists the assets Frank McCourt claims he is entitled to -- including the Dodgers.
Susman said the scientists found the document contained the original staple from 2004. In addition, an imprint of Jamie McCourt's signature was determined to exist on the page that names Frank as sole owner -- a potentially devastating blow to Jamie's chances of being given half the team in the divorce settlement.
"We've got the same staple and her signature on something she claims she never signed," says Susman. "Which proves all along she was not telling the truth."
Jamie McCourt's lawyers contend that because Larry Silverstein, the lawyer who drafted the document, has testified that he went over it with Jamie, he may have gone over a different version than the one signed by Frank McCourt.
In an interview with ESPN The Magazine in San Francisco last month, Jamie McCourt's lead attorney, David Boies, said his client believed the document she signed did not mention the Dodgers, and that the property agreement was executed with the sole purpose of putting the homes in her name to protect them from creditors should her husband's business ventures fail.
Frank McCourt's leveraged finances and the Dodgers' shrinking payroll have been the subject of fascination and ridicule in Los Angeles, especially in light of divorce filings that have revealed the embattled owner has drawn $390 million against future ticket sales. He has also avoided paying a dollar in state or federal taxes since assuming control of the team six years ago.
Boies contended that Jamie -- who has a law degree from the University of Maryland and an MBA from MIT -- was the victim of a "switcheroo" in which her husband or his estate lawyer, Silverstein of Bingham McCutchen, removed the schedules listing his and her take that were tacked on after the signature page and replaced them with new pages that gave him sole control of the team.
"This is a great day for Frank McCourt in his quest to show that he alone is and always has been the sole owner of the Dodgers," Susman said. "His wife has been accusing him of fraud and this day brought vindication."
Frank McCourt still has other hurdles he must clear to walk away with the team after this goes to trial on Aug. 30, including Judge Scott Gordon's right to throw the marital property agreement out on the basis of its fairness: The Dodgers are estimated to be worth nearly $800 million, and the team will be worth much more than that when it regains broadcasting rights from Fox in 2013.
If the team is able to establish a television station akin to the Yankees' YES Network, it could potentially generate billions of dollars in revenue. The homes Jamie McCourt would walk away with would be worth around $100 million.
Even if Frank McCourt's claims prove correct, news was not all good for him Tuesday. In a court filing, McCourt said he had to borrow money from his brother to pay the $650,000 he owed Jamie McCourt in spousal support. He said he has also borrowed $650,000 from one business associate and $150,000 from another business associate.
The claim said McCourt's personal liquidity is down to $600,000 -- making it nearly impossible for him to pay the more than $600,000 in monthly support the court ruled he must pay Jamie. He said he applied for a personal line of credit "in the range of $5 to $10 million" from a bank and was denied.