Frank and Jamie McCourt divorce starts
LOS ANGELES -- A divorce battle that could determine who owns the Los Angeles Dodgers began Monday with attorneys for ex-team CEO Jamie McCourt arguing she was deceived about a marital agreement by her estranged husband, Frank McCourt.
His lawyers countered by portraying Jamie McCourt as a savvy businesswoman who pushed for the arrangement six years ago but didn't know what she actually signed.
Superior Court Judge Scott Gordon will decide if the postnuptial agreement is valid.
Frank McCourt believes the pact gives him sole ownership of the storied franchise. Jamie McCourt contends the agreement should be thrown out and those assets should be split evenly under California's community property law.
The McCourts, who were married for nearly 30 years, were each flanked by a cadre of high-priced attorneys as they entered court. The one-time couple appeared to glance at each other but showed no acknowledgment.
Frank McCourt, wearing a black suit with a blue tie, looked focused and composed. Jamie McCourt, in a formfitting white dress, seemed relaxed as she laughed with her attorneys before the hearing began. Her parents also were in attendance.
The case has been like a soap opera, with allegations of infidelities, deceit and lavish spending aired for the public.
Lawyer Dennis Wasser, who represents Jamie McCourt, claims his client was duped by her husband and a family attorney when the couple signed the agreement in March 2004.
Wasser said six copies were shown to the couple in Massachusetts, but only three actually listed the Dodgers, the stadium and surrounding property as Frank McCourt's separate assets. The other three versions didn't include the team as his property.
"We were told, you were told, that the six copies were identical," Wasser said to Gordon. "They are not."
Wasser suggested the family attorney, at some point, replaced the three versions that excluded the Dodgers as Frank McCourt's separate property with three that included the assets as his property, but Jamie McCourt wasn't told.
Wasser questioned how Gordon might find the agreement valid, given those circumstances.
"The evidence will show no one advised Jamie of the switch," the lawyer said.
Wasser said it was inconceivable to think Jamie McCourt would give up her rights to the Dodgers, especially after she served as the team's CEO. She was fired last year after Frank McCourt accused her of having an affair and not living up to the rigors of the job.
"Jamie would never have given up this interest and didn't. It doesn't make sense," Wasser said.
Meanwhile, Frank McCourt's attorney Steve Susman chalked up the difference in the agreements as a mistake and not a "fraudulent switch-a-roo," as opposing lawyers claim.
Susman repeatedly pointed out that Jamie McCourt was a family law attorney herself and was told numerous times before signing the agreement what it entailed.
"I believe that a junior high school student could understand that language," Susman said as both McCourts looked on.
Susman added that Jamie McCourt was the driving force behind the agreement because she didn't want her husband's creditors going after the couple's six luxurious homes that were listed in her name.
"She wanted the contract then, now things have changed," Susman said. "She wants her signature erased."
Susman also portrayed Jamie McCourt as a wife who didn't believe her husband could run a sports franchise and thought he would lose the fortune he had made in real estate. He said Frank McCourt was willing to take a tremendous amount of risk in buying the Dodgers.
Leah Bishop, an estate planning attorney, was the first witness. She testified that in June 2008, she sat down with the then-married couple and explained the agreement to both of them.
Bishop said the couple directed her to come up with a new draft of the agreement that kept the homes in Jamie McCourt's possession but called for everything else to be shared.
"Frank said if the Dodgers are going to be community property, then everything is going to be community property," Bishop said. Frank McCourt never signed the revised paperwork.
Earlier in the hearing, Gordon granted a motion by Jamie McCourt's attorneys to have all six copies of the postnuptial agreement entered into evidence. In trying to explain California family law to the attorneys, Gordon used colors to represent the parties he was talking about.
"I'm going to avoid the use of blue in this trial," Gordon joked, a reference to the team colors of the Dodgers.
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press