Tuesday, December 7, 2010
Settle in for a long winter, Dodgers fans
By Ramona Shelburne ESPNLosAngeles.com
There was a bridge at the edge of town a while back.
It was a place we thought Frank and Jamie McCourt could not and would not go.
Jamie McCourt won Round 1 in court, but it's far from over.
Too much was at stake. No way two people so obsessed with their images would allow theirs to be publicly trashed in divorce proceedings.
No way they would take the fate of the Los Angeles Dodgers into the muck with them. No way they would ever let a judge decide.
This was never going to be a fairy tale ending. We're jaded here in Los Angeles, not naive. But we also never thought it would go as far as it has with the McCourts and their army of lawyers. Not only crossing the bridge into our Sleepy Hollow, but wielding swords and daring us to do anything about it.
At some point we thought they would turn back, that everyone would realize this had gone far enough and a settlement would be worked out.
I really don't think anyone cared much who won, so long as it was over and the Dodgers could still sign a couple of pitchers this offseason.
Instead both sides have kept riding.
And after today's ruling that Jamie won Round 1, they seem to be stocking up on supplies for what promises to be a long winter.
"This will stay in litigation for a long time -- most likely years," said Thomas J. Simeone, an attorney at the Washington, D.C.-based firm of Simeone & Miller, LLP, who has no affiliation with this case but is familiar with family law.
"His attorneys may appeal this specific ruling, which can take months or even a year by itself. Then, once that is resolved, the divorce case will still continue. If he prevails on appeal, the Dodgers will be his sole asset and the divorce case will be less complicated because the Dodgers will not need to be valued.
"If he loses, then the divorce court will have to value the Dodgers, in addition to his other assets."
Frank's attorney, Marc Seltzer, said 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.
"Without the agreements in place, it becomes the court's job to determine which property is Frank's and which is Jamie's, based on who holds legal title to the team. The facts are crystal clear on this point. The Dodgers are solely in Frank's name."
Which is basically what Frank's side has been saying since the beginning of this whole thing. The lawyers are being paid to keep pushing this through the belly of our legal system. And that system will swallow and digest it like a snake does a rat, slowly and uncomfortably.
A chorus of civic leaders and journalists have called on baseball commissioner Bud Selig to step in. But he has no precedent for such action and doing so could have historic complications across professional sports. Ownership of a team isn't a country club membership. If it were, Donald Sterling would have been kicked out a long time ago.
A commissioner can censor an owner and suggest he sell. He can probably even pressure him to do so. But unless the owner has committed fraud or some other criminal malfeasance, it's hard to see a commissioner forcing a property owner to sell his property.
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The NBA is taking over the New Orleans Hornets, but that's a different scenario. The Hornets had already been sold when the deal collapsed and George Shinn told the league that he could no longer afford what it costs to keep the team running.
In other words, Shinn was a willing seller.
Frank McCourt is Captain Ahab by comparison.
"The team is not for sale, I'm not selling it. I'm going to own it for a long long time," McCourt said at the news conference in September in which new manager Don Mattingly was introduced.
"I have a very, very strong instinct that I'm going to own this team for a long, long time and then someday, God willing, my boys will own the team."
Though his lawyers spoke for him after Tuesday's ruling, I'd expect he remains as defiant as ever.
Which should surprise none of us at this point.
Frank and Jamie McCourt have proven their resolve, and where this fateful ride ends now is anyone's guess.
Once they all crossed that bridge at the edge of town a while back, anything was possible.
Ramona Shelburne is a columnist and writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow her on Twitter.