Shortly after sitting in the witness chair Friday, Frank McCourt was presented with an aerial photo of Chavez Ravine.
“Do you recognize this place?” an attorney asked. McCourt threw a quick glance at the image of Dodger Stadium surrounded by parking lots before replying in his Boston accent, “Yes, sir.”
Two years after he sold the Dodgers for $2.15 billion in a conflagration of bankruptcy and divorce, McCourt was back in Los Angeles to revisit his tenure as owner. The audience was a Superior Court jury and the subject one of the darkest days in team history: the 2011 savage beating of San Francisco Giants fan Bryan Stow on Opening Day.
Lawyers for Stow, who, with his family, is seeking more than $50 million in damages, have suggested in court papers that McCourt personally bore some responsibility for the attack by under-funding security at the stadium.
But in about an hour and a half of testimony, McCourt adamantly denied slashing the security budget and insisted game security was crucially important to him, even correcting an attorney who referred to fan safety as “one of the top priorities.”
“The top priority,” he said.
McCourt said, however, that as chief executive, he delegated security planning and budgeting to others and knew little about their operations.
“I trusted the people I empowered to do the job.” he said.
Lawyers for Stow have focused on an apparent lack of security personnel at the game where the Santa Cruz man was severely injured. Witnesses called by Stow’s lawyers have described violence and harassment of Giants fans in the stands and in the parking lot after the game and said there were no ushers or security guards present. One former security guard said he was told in a pre-game meeting that only half of the usual 300 security guards had shown up for work that day.
David Lira, an attorney for Stow, asked whether McCourt expected guards to break up fights among fans.
“Yes,” McCourt said. “Assuming they were aware or the fight had been brought to their attention.”
When the lawyer pressed him about the adequacy of security deployed to the parking lot after the game, McCourt said he wasn’t in a position to judge the situation. But the attorney asked whether, as chief executive officer, he was the person responsible for security.
“Ultimately, yes,” McCourt conceded.
Stow, now 45, suffered a skull fracture that left him with severe brain injuries. He has difficulty walking and speaking and requires around-the-clock care.
The testimony marked the first time McCourt, a Boston businessman who now lives in New York, had appeared at the trial, which is entering its third week. He and the Dodgers are named as defendants in the case, but Stow’s attorneys have said that insurers will pay any jury award. McCourt spoke in a flat, unemotional voice. When his eyes began to water at one point in his testimony, he quickly explained that it was the result of recent eye surgery.
Stow’s lawyers said in the lawsuit that McCourt had funneled money from the Dodgers and into an opulent lifestyle, but Judge Victor E. Chavez barred that line of questioning.
McCourt was asked about the nearly $2 million salary he paid to his now ex-wife, Jamie. He confirmed the salary, but when Lira asked if “her salary matched what the Dodgers spent on security for the year,” an attorney for the Dodgers objected, and the judge ordered him not to answer.
Under questioning from his own attorney, McCourt said he had never reduced team spending on security and deferred to his head of security in deciding how many guards to hire.
Outside court, Lira said that McCourt’s insistence that he had not cut the security budget had little affect on the claim that the team is partially responsible for the beating.
“Our case is more about gaps and deployment in security, not about the amount spent,” Lira said.
In a brief news conference outside the courthouse, McCourt said that he “appreciated the opportunity” to testify and placed the blame for Stow’s condition on two men convicted in the attack, Marvin Norwood and Louie Sanchez.
“Like all Dodger fans, I was appalled by the criminal behavior of Sanchez and Norwood,” McCourt said. “And make no mistake, they are the parties responsible for this incident.”