After 10 days in court and 10 witnesses providing testimony, the divorce trial between Frank and Jamie McCourt concludes on Wednesday. The closing arguments should return the focus to whether Frank has a valid agreement that awards him sole ownership of the Dodgers or whether the team should be considered community property. Here are some questions and answers that summarize where the case stands:
How can there be a valid agreement if there are two versions of it, one that says the Dodgers are his and his alone and another that says Frank and Jamie share ownership?
Frank says the latter version is a mistake, awkwardly but accurately corrected when the lawyer that drafted the agreement substituted one page for another — after the McCourts had signed, and without notifying them.
Jamie has suggested the switch was intentional and deceitful, but without any corroborating testimony. In any case, she says, the existence of two conflicting documents should compel the judge to throw them both out.
Why does Frank say Jamie would sign an agreement waiving her rights to Dodgers ownership?
Frank says the agreement was drafted at Jamie’s insistence, in keeping with the McCourts’ practice of putting their businesses in his name and their residences in her name so as to insulate the homes from potential creditors. Several witnesses testified that Jamie told them she wanted no part of the risk of owning the Dodgers and that she refused to sign baseball documents that would have exposed her to financial liability; no witness has testified hearing Jamie say she wanted an ownership share in the team.
“What the parties intended and what she wanted couldn’t be any clearer,” said Steve Susman, an attorney for Frank. “It’s all about how she can get out of the agreement.”
How does Jamie explain her stance that the Dodgers could be Frank’s sole property during marriage but should be joint property upon divorce?
Jamie says — and Frank has not disputed — that the goal of the agreement was to mimic the law of Massachusetts, where a divorcing couple generally divides all of its assets, no matter which spouse owns any particular asset. Frank testified that he understood that option was not available under California law. However, none of several lawyers who worked on the agreement testified to expertise in California divorce law, and none said he had explored whether Jamie could have shielded herself from financial liability related to the Dodgers while retaining an ownership share upon divorce.
“It is about the intention of the parties,” said Dennis Wasser, an attorney for Jamie. “They all wanted to preserve the status quo they had in Massachusetts. The contract is all wrong.”
What happens after closing arguments?
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Scott Gordon has until Dec. 28 to rule, which could complicate the Dodgers’ winter plans. Major League Baseball’s winter meetings are scheduled for Dec. 6-9.
The sides can settle at any time before the judge issues his ruling, and they have agreed to additional mediation. In the absence of a settlement, Gordon also would schedule future hearings on spousal support.
If Gordon throws out the agreement, would the team go up for sale?
Not right away, and maybe not at all. Frank has promised to launch another legal fight, this one to establish the Dodgers as his sole property on grounds independent of the agreement. That issue — and/or a possible appeal of Gordon’s ruling — could take one to three years to resolve. In the short term, the Dodgers would be likely to remain under current management.
Would Gordon order the Dodgers sold?
That could happen later, if the team is found to be community property and the McCourts cannot agree on how to divide their assets. In this trial, Gordon has only been asked to decide whether the agreement is valid.