McCourts now bring the legal heat


After months of attacking each other in legal papers, Frank and Jamie McCourt brought the core of their divorce battle before a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge Monday.

Arriving nearly 15 minutes apart, they walked through a packed hallway outside the court filled with reporters — and their lawyers.

She had five. He brought six.

The question at the center of the case: Is Frank the sole owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, or do they both own the team?

Although both spouses uttered nothing more than their names when they were sworn in — leaving the sparring to their attorneys — Frank McCourt is expected to testify as early as Tuesday. Jamie may testify the next day.

What happens in the courtroom will determine not just Frank’s and Jamie’s individual net worth, but could also alter the landscape for a city of baseball fans. The franchise, one of Major League Baseball’s most storied, could end up sold.

“It’s unfortunate that it’s come to this,” said Frank, 57, as he waited for the proceeding to begin. “It’s the beginning of the end.”

As expected, Jamie’s attorneys claimed the couple’s property agreement should be invalidated and the Dodgers ruled community property. Frank’s attorneys say the agreement should be upheld and that she was the one who insisted on it.

If Jamie wins, the team could end up the property of one or the other McCourt, plus investors.

Frank, dressed in a dark suit, smiled and hugged Dodgers attorney Marshall Grossman as his lawyers and Dodgers executive Howard Sunkin gathered around before court.

Nearly 10 minutes after Frank and his attorneys took their seats in the courtroom, Jamie, 56, walked in, smiling calmly. She was trailed by her high-powered lawyer, David Boies, who defended Al Gore in the contested 2000 presidential election and recently helped argue against Proposition 8, California’s ban on gay marriage.

Wearing a sleek white dress, Jamie sat at a far end of the lawyers’ table, turning to grin at her parents seated in the front row. Her father, Jack Luskin — who once owned a chain of electronics stores in Maryland and Virginia — flashed her a thumbs up.

In a show of collegiality not to be found in the court documents, Boies strode over to Frank McCourt and shook his hand.

But then Judge Scott Gordon took the bench and the sparring began.

The judge — who will alone decide the case — made a point of saying that if he or the attorneys referred to either by first name, it was only for clarity and not meant to be disrespectful.

The thorny issue here is the McCourts’ marital property agreement. The couple signed six copies of the agreement drawn up before they left Massachusetts for the community-property state of California. The agreement says Frank’s sole property includes the Dodgers, and Jamie’s sole property includes their homes.

But there’s one main complication: Some of the agreements they signed have a list saying that Frank’s sole property excludes the Dodgers. Frank’s lawyers contend in filings that that was simply “a scrivener’s error” — which the McCourts’ East Coast lawyer corrected without telling the couple about the mistake in the first place.

Jamie’s lawyers argue it might have been done on purpose. “There was a switch after the documents were signed and notarized,” said Jamie’s attorney, Dennis Wasser. “Jamie was not told.” He seized on the famous line from Sir Walter Scott: “Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.”

Wasser also suggested that Jamie was never given enough information about what she was signing. She would never have knowingly signed away her right to the Dodgers, he contended.

Was Jamie a deceived spouse — as Wasser argued — counseled by a Massachusetts lawyer who didn’t adequately explain the implications in California of what she was signing hurriedly?

Frank’s lawyer, Stephen Susman, questioned whether that was even possible and mocked her lawyer’s arguments.

“She is likely the first such highly educated CEO of a multimillion-dollar corporation asking to have a marital property agreement [invalidated] by saying she didn’t understand it,” he said.

Indeed, far from being a traditional Los Angeles divorce tale of a struggle between a powerful man and his trophy wife, this is a duel between a husband and a wife whose education trumps his.

Jamie, the former president and then chief executive of the Dodgers, holds a law degree from the University of Maryland and a business degree from MIT.

“She wanted the marital property agreement,” Susman added “… She wanted to protect herself from Frank’s business interests.”

Susman cast her as a tough-minded businesswoman who saw Frank’s 2004 acquisition of the Dodgers —which had been losing money — as a risky proposition she wanted no part of. “She wanted to protect her nest egg,” Susman said, referring to the homes that were in her name.

And as he hammered on that point, the screen in the courtroom that had been projecting legal documents with tiny print suddenly displayed a giant photo of a nest of eggs. People in the courtroom giggled.

“Jamie’s nest egg,” said the title over it. Next to it was a photo of a basket of eggs with the script “Dodgers” on it. “Frank’s Basket,” read the title.

But that changed, Susman contended, when Jamie decided that having a stake in the Dodgers could help her more than hurt her if she decided to run for political office. “She realized she needed the Dodgers as her platform to accomplish this,” Susman said.

She even had a working title for a memoir, he said: “Screaming Meanie: Babes, Baseball, and Business.” (Times columnist T.J. Simers routinely described her as the “Screaming Meanie” of the franchise.)

If Jamie was rattled by the skewering, she didn’t show it, serenely watching Susman as he attacked her credibility — a trick perhaps learned in her five years as a Dodgers executive when she and her husband sometimes drew the ire of fans and local media.

If the trial continues, both McCourts will have plenty of opportunities to practice their game faces.

Pointing to about two dozen thick binders of legal documents arrayed against a wall, Judge Gordon told one of Jamie’s lawyers: “Your exhibit list alone is that entire length of cabinet.”