Frank McCourt begins testifying in divorce trial that could decide ownership of LA Dodgers

By Greg Risling, AP
Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Dodgers owner takes stand in own divorce trial

LOS ANGELES — Frank McCourt testified Tuesday in his divorce trial that a now-contested postnuptial agreement was his wife’s idea to protect her assets from his creditors.

McCourt, 57, took the stand late in the day and mostly recalled his conversations the weeks before he and his wife, former Dodgers CEO Jamie McCourt, signed the agreement in March 2004.

The validity of the pact is at the center of the 11-day trial in which a judge could decide whether McCourt has to share ownership of the Dodgers with his wife, who filed for divorce in October after nearly 30 years of marriage.

His testimony also could elicit new details about the inner workings of one of baseball’s more storied franchises, but will likely focus on the couple’s recollections of what the agreement was supposed to provide.

McCourt contends the pact gives him sole ownership of the Dodgers, the stadium and the surrounding property, while Jamie McCourt believes the agreement should be thrown out and those assets should be split evenly under California’s community property law.

Sporting a blue suit with a powder blue tie, McCourt answered questions from attorney David Boies, one of the nation’s top litigators best known for challenging California’s ban on gay marriage, as well as for defending Al Gore in the disputed 2000 presidential election.

Boies asked McCourt about Jamie McCourt’s desire to keep her nest egg separate from the assets of her husband, a Boston developer who had several failed ventures before finding success and using his money to purchase the Dodgers in 2004 for $430 million. Their postnuptial agreement calls for Jamie McCourt to receive a half-dozen luxurious homes, worth about $80 million.

“I knew creditor protection was very important to Jamie,” Frank McCourt said. The marital agreement was his wife’s idea and he wasn’t looking for a quid-pro-quo deal, he added.

“I wasn’t looking for something in return,” said McCourt.

Jamie McCourt’s attorneys claim their client was duped by McCourt and a family attorney when the agreement was signed. They said six copies were shown to the couple in Massachusetts, but only three listed the Dodgers as McCourt’s separate assets.

Boies asked McCourt if he had spoken with his wife or the family lawyer about not only getting Jamie McCourt the protection she sought from creditors, but also preserving her rights to the Dodgers.

“I was not aware of any such discussion,” McCourt said.

“Did you ever consider that?” Boies asked.

“No,” McCourt responded.

McCourt’s attorneys have painted his wife as money-hungry once the Dodgers began to succeed on the field. It wasn’t until mid-2008 that she made her intentions known that she wanted the homes in her name but everything else, including the team, to be held jointly.

Earlier Tuesday, an estate planning attorney testified that she spent months drafting a new version of the agreement per the couple’s request to make the Dodgers community property. Leah Bishop recalled McCourt directing her to fix the document.

Bishop said that despite a series of e-mails and letters exchanged among her, the couple and their advisers between August 2008 and early 2009, McCourt never expressed concern about sharing the team with Jamie McCourt until May 2009 when he sent an e-mail to Bishop.

Two months later, Bishop said she met with McCourt for more than three hours where he opened up to her about his marriage.

McCourt said his wife wanted to be part of his businesses after they moved to California from Massachusetts, Bishop testified. Once she was elevated to be the Dodgers’ chief executive officer, he told Bishop that she was creating “stress” in the front office.

“He said she was lacking rationality,” Bishop recalls him saying. “He said he just realized that she thinks she can run the team. That’s a total disconnect.”

She added McCourt said he wanted to focus on his companies and thought it best if his wife wasn’t involved with the Dodgers.

“He wanted her to do something else that occupies her time, and it wasn’t the Los Angeles Dodgers,” Bishop said.

Under cross-examination by Frank McCourt’s attorney Steve Susman, Bishop recalled McCourt cried at one point during the meeting.

As much as Bishop testified about her understanding of what the legal documents contained, she also gave some insight into how the couple’s relationship operated.

“For as long as I knew Frank and Jamie, which was about a year, they bickered constantly in front of me and in front of other people,” Bishop said. “Jamie would say, ‘Oh, that’s just how we are.’ I naively thought they would take care of this.”

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