Attorneys switch gears in McCourt case and will discuss possible settlement

By Greg Risling, AP
Friday, September 24, 2010

Settlement talks Friday in McCourt divorce case

LOS ANGELES — Attorneys in the divorce trial of Jamie and Frank McCourt will now focus on negotiating a possible settlement starting Friday after nine days of sometimes contentious testimony that could determine future ownership of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Lawyers on both sides are scheduled to meet in a Los Angeles downtown courtroom with a different judge presiding over the discussions, according to court spokesman Allan Parachini. The talks could spill into the weekend if a deal hasn’t been reached.

Jamie McCourt wants Superior Court Judge Scott Gordon to toss out a postnuptial marital agreement, signed by the couple in March 2004, so she can have a slice of the Dodgers under California’s community property law. Frank McCourt believes he is the sole owner and the pact should be upheld.

Legal observers believe attorneys want to revisit mediation, which occurred over the summer, because there is a lot at stake for the McCourts — namely the Dodgers — and they may not want to leave it up to Gordon, who could order the sale of the team.

“Uncertainty is very difficult for the parties involved,” said Los Angeles-based family law attorney Steve Mindel. “The sad part of this is their stubborness led to the goodwill of the Dodgers being decimated.”

On Thursday, attorney Larry Silverstein capped three days of testimony in which he said he switched a key portion of the marital agreement that went from excluding the Dodgers from Frank McCourt’s separate property to including the team. He didn’t tell either McCourt about the “mistake,” saying he regretted doing so.

“I admit it was not the best practice,” Silverstein said.

The revelation may be enough for Gordon to set aside the agreement and deem the Dodgers, the stadium and the surrounding land, worth millions of dollars, as community property, Mindel said.

Silverstein maintains Jamie McCourt wanted her husband’s businesses separate from her assets — a group of luxurious homes — to protect them from his creditors. He also said she didn’t want to be a team owner and was more comfortable with management roles. Jamie McCourt was the Dodgers former CEO before her estranged husband fired her late last year.

“She never indicated she wanted an ownership interest in the Dodgers,” Silverstein said.

He also said that when the couple thought about making all of their assets community property a couple of years ago, Jamie McCourt balked at his request to sign documents in order for Major League Baseball to consider her as an owner of the Dodgers.

“She said she wasn’t going to sign any bleeping MLB forms,” he said.

Jamie McCourt’s legal team claimed her husband and Silverstein engaged in fraud by making the correction without telling their client. Both Silverstein and Frank McCourt denied the allegation during their testimony.

Silverstein said Wednesday he wrote the word “exclusive” in a draft of the agreement to reflect that the team and the businesses were Frank McCourt’s alone. It turns out that Silverstein gave the couple six copies to sign at their Massachusetts home in March 2004, three of which had the Dodgers as Frank McCourt’s separate property, and three others that didn’t.

Asked two weeks ago which side was winning the trial, Frank McCourt’s attorney Steve Susman said the score was 8-2 in favor of his client. On Thursday, Susman said the score was now 12-2. He added he hopes resolution will happen over the next two days.

“I hope that we will not be back next week,” he said.

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