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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Dodgers Divorce: Judge Gordon Throws Out Postnup



Judge rules in favor of Jamie McCourt in Dodgers ownership struggle








See the Statement of Decision.

The decision denying Frank McCourt's claim to sole ownership of the team is not expected to immediately affect day-to-day operations. He may use other legal strategies to challenge his ex-wife's case.

By Bill Shaikin and Carla Hall

Frank McCourt is not the sole owner of the Dodgers, a judge ruled Tuesday, a decision that keeps the team in legal limbo for what might be several more years.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Scott Gordon granted Jamie McCourt's plea to throw out a 2004 marital agreement that would have left her without an ownership share in the Dodgers.

"The court finds that the marital property agreement is not a valid and enforceable agreement," Gordon wrote in his ruling. "The court orders that the marital property agreement is set aside."

The ruling is not expected to have an immediate impact on the day-to-day operations of the team. Frank is expected to employ other legal strategies to dispute his ex-wife's claim to co-ownership of the team.

Frank could decide to appeal Tuesday's ruling. He already has notified the court he wants to use a different legal strategy in another claim to sole ownership of the Dodgers, one based on the concept that he bought the team with a company he established before his marriage to Jamie.

Frank's attorneys have said such a trial could be completed in one day and that all the necessary evidence is in the court record. Jamie's attorneys have said such a trial could require up to 60 days, preceded by months to collect new evidence.

Dennis Wasser, an attorney for Jamie, said he hoped the ruling would enable both sides to settle the case, for what he said would be the good of the Dodgers and the community. "We are very pleased that the marital property agreement has been invalidated. Now that Jamie has prevailed in this case, we hope it will be possible to resolve the matter in a reasonable way going forward."

Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig has declined to comment on the case. The Times reported in September that the possibility of years of legal battles between the McCourts had prompted him to consider intervening on behalf of the Dodgers, but it is uncertain what options he might contemplate.

The McCourts also could use Gordon's ruling to renew settlement talks, with the validity of the 2004 marital agreement no longer a wild card in negotiations.

The sides have been unable to reach a settlement despite several rounds of discussions -- with and without mediators -- over the last year.

In the absence of a settlement, Gordon eventually would determine permanent spousal support. In May, Gordon ordered Frank to pay Jamie $637,159 per month in temporary support, including costs associated with the couple's homes.

The McCourts filed for divorce on Oct. 27, 2009, one week shy of what would have been their 30th anniversary.

In March 2004, two months after baseball owners approved their purchase of the Dodgers, the McCourts each signed a marital property agreement that specified the team belonged solely to Frank and the couple's homes belonged solely to Jamie.

In the initial phase of the divorce case -- and in a trial that lasted 11 days -- the only question before Gordon was whether the agreement was valid.

Frank asked Gordon to enforce the deal, arguing that Jamie was the driving force behind the agreement and that she had gotten exactly what she wanted from it -- that is, to protect the homes from creditors should the Dodgers suffer severe financial losses.

Jamie asked Gordon to overturn the agreement, claiming she never intended to surrender her rights to Dodgers ownership and never would have signed the document had she been explicitly informed of its impact in the event of divorce. She said she should be considered co-owner of the Dodgers.

As the trial approached, lawyers discovered the McCourts had signed six copies of the agreement, three of which listed the Dodgers as Frank's sole property and three that did not.

Larry Silverstein, the Boston lawyer who drew up the agreement, testified that he had botched the wording in the latter three copies and had corrected his mistake by replacing the relevant page in the agreement -- after the McCourts had signed the document, and without informing either of them of the alleged error.

Frank argued that Silverstein had made an unfortunate mistake but corrected it to conform with what Jamie had wanted -- that is, no financial responsibility for the Dodgers.

Jamie argued that Silverstein's blunder, whether innocent or intentional, resulted in two versions of the agreement with materially opposite terms. If one version said Frank owned the Dodgers and the other version did not, she contended, there never could have been an agreement in the first place.

bill.shaikin@latimes.com

carla.hall@latimes.com

Copyright © 2010, Los Angeles Times

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