Lawyer tries to explain his changes to disputed McCourt document
After two mornings of skewering, the Boston lawyer who wrote the disputed marital property agreement at the core of the bitter Frank and Jamie McCourt divorce battle got to explain himself and try to rehabilitate his image.
Larry Silverstein, the lawyer who changed the wording in three signed copies of the agreements without consulting the McCourts, testified Wednesday afternoon how he came to make and then fix what he says was an innocent mistake.
Silverstein explained that he simply botched his words in a draft he wrote late one night or early morning in 2004, when he listed Frank McCourt’s sole property as “exclusive” of the Dodgers.
Later, the attorney changed “exclusive” to “inclusive,” meaning the Dodgers were not joint property of the now-estranged couple.
“Sometimes I garble the language,” the beleaguered attorney said under friendly questioning by Victoria Cook, one of Frank’s attorneys. “I was trying to write it as the exclusive pool of assets.”
But there was nothing garbled in his words or thoughts when Silverstein recounted his discussions with Jamie McCourt.
Jamie McCourt contends that she would not have signed the agreement if she believed that she was signing away her claim to any ownership in the team. However, Silverstein, who was acting on behalf of both McCourts, said she never indicated anything of the sort, including during a March 29 phone call when the two discussed the draft agreement.
“She never once said that the Dodgers should not be listed as Frank’s assets,” said Silverstein, his voice toughening.
Jamie’s attorney, David Boies, said outside the courtroom that Jamie could not recall that particular phone conversation she had with Silverstein. But Boies said that whatever she told Silverstein prompted the attorney to change the draft “as soon as he got off the phone with her” — inserting language that excluded the Dodgers from Frank’s sole property — the very language that Silverstein insists was an error.
Boies maintains there never was an error, that Silverstein was following Jamie’s wishes when he wrote that the Dodgers were not Frank’s sole property. And when Silverstein later changed the wording to include the Dodgers in Frank’s sole property, he was changing the document to reflect Frank’s wishes.
Boies, who questioned Silverstein on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings, also dismissed the idea the attorney might have “garbled” two words — inclusive and exclusive — with a totally opposite meaning.
“Give me a break,” Boies said.
The trial is scheduled to resume Thursday morning. On Friday, the sides are expected to meet privately at the courthouse for a mediation session.
Under Cook’s questioning Wednesday afternoon, Silverstein portrayed himself as a conscientious lawyer who followed the couple’s requests and walked them through the agreement they were signing.
He recalled sitting in the kitchen of the McCourts’ home in Brookline, Mass., reviewing the key paragraphs of the marital property agreement they were about to sign.
“Were both of them paying attention?” Cook said in a soothing voice.
“I thought so,” Silverstein said.
When it came to the last set of copies the couple signed — the copies that Frank and his lawyers say mistakenly excluded the Dodgers from his separate property — neither Silverstein nor the McCourts read it before they signed it and Silverstein notarized it.
“Wish I had,” he said ruefully. “But I didn’t.”
The court took an unscheduled 65-minute respite in the afternoon because Silverstein, who has health issues, felt ill. He returned to the stand.
Silverstein recounted in detail a luncheon he attended with his California colleague, Reynolds Cafferata, and Jamie McCourt at Dodger Stadium in Feburary 2004, after the sale of the Dodgers to Frank McCourt had gone through.
Though it was a celebratory event, Silverstein recalled Jamie sitting for 45 minutes in intense conversation with the lawyers, telling them she wanted legal protection from creditors for her real estate.
“She was very focused on protecting herself from the liabilities incurred by the purchase of the Dodgers,” Silverstein said.
“She was driving the conversation.”
His recollection was in stark contrast to Jamie’s account of that day. She described herself as a busy host, socializing with well-wishers and barely recalling what she said to the lawyers who were present.
Silverstein also testified that he told the couple they could seek separate counsel before signing the marital agreement. They insisted, he said, that they wanted Silverstein to represent them both.
In the ultimate irony, Silverstein recalled that Jamie McCourt — who during these proceedings has been surrounded by a platoon of attorneys — told him she “didn’t need more lawyers. One was enough.”