Frank and Jamie McCourt have reached a divorce settlement under which she would get about $130 million and relinquish any claim to a share of the Dodgers, multiple people familiar with the agreement told The Times.
The settlement would remove Jamie McCourt as an obstacle to Frank McCourt’s plan to retain ownership of the team by selling the Dodgers’ television rights in U.S. Bankruptcy Court. The agreement also would appear to set up a winner-take-all court showdown for the Dodgers between Frank McCourt and Commissioner Bud Selig.
The people familiar with the agreement spoke on condition of anonymity because the settlement has not been finalized. However, such a settlement would conclude what is believed to be the costliest divorce in California history.
The McCourts incurred $20.6 million in legal bills related to the divorce through July, according to Los Angeles Superior Court filings by each of the parties. To settle the outstanding dispute over whether the Dodgers were the sole property of Frank McCourt or community property could have added at least $14 million to those bills, based on estimates in a filing on behalf of Jamie McCourt.
Matthew Hiltzik, spokesman for Jamie McCourt, declined to comment. Steve Sugerman, spokesman for Frank McCourt, did not respond to requests for comment.
Selig has asked the Bankruptcy Court to order the Dodgers sold. For Frank McCourt to keep the team, he probably needs U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Kevin Gross to deny Selig’s request and to grant an auction of the Dodgers’ television rights, over the objections of Selig and Fox Sports.
However, in the absence of the pending settlement, Frank McCourt could not have kept the team without defeating Selig in Bankruptcy Court, then defeating his ex-wife in divorce court on the issue of whether the Dodgers were community property.
It is uncertain whether the Bankruptcy Court would allow McCourt to use money from a television deal to satisfy a divorce settlement — Selig would not — or whether the net proceeds of a sale of the team would exceed $130 million.
The McCourts previously reached a divorce settlement on June 17, but that agreement was contingent upon the approval of a proposed television contract between the Dodgers and Fox.
Selig rejected the contract three days later, noting in part that almost half of an immediate $385-million payment from Fox would have been diverted from the Dodgers.
On June 27, Frank McCourt took the Dodgers into bankruptcy, without notification to Jamie McCourt, who had asked the divorce court to order the team sold. She subsequently lined up behind Major League Baseball and Fox in asking the Bankruptcy Court to reject Frank McCourt’s bid to auction the Dodgers’ television rights.
Frank and Jamie McCourt introduced themselves to Los Angeles on Jan. 29, 2004, the baseball-loving couple from Boston who would transplant themselves and their four sons in order to realize their dream of owning a major league team.
“Family ownership has returned to the Dodgers,” Frank McCourt said that day.
The Dodgers made the playoffs four times in the first six years of McCourt ownership, including consecutive appearances in the National League Championship Series for the first time in 31 years. The McCourts announced their separation on the eve of the 2009 NLCS; the Dodgers lost that series in five games and have not finished above third place in the two seasons since then.
On the day the McCourts announced their separation, Marshall Grossman — then the attorney for Frank McCourt — said his client owned the team and would continue to own the team.
“This is not going to be another San Diego-like debacle,” Grossman said.
Grossman referred to John Moores, the former owner of the San Diego Padres, who had to sell his team to finance a divorce settlement. Grossman said Frank McCourt had a marital property agreement that specified the Dodgers were his separate property rather than community property.
Subsequently, however, attorneys discovered three copies of the agreement that said the Dodgers belonged to Frank McCourt alone and three that said they did not. After an 11-day trial last year, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Scott Gordon threw out the agreement.
In a Bankruptcy Court filing last week, attorneys for Frank McCourt alleged that Selig responded to the “enormous negative publicity” of the divorce trial by hatching a plan to choke off the Dodgers’ money supply and force a sale of the team.
The league has alleged McCourt’s financial mismanagement in asking the Bankruptcy Court to order a sale. Still, there is little doubt that the divorce proceedings engendered “enormous negative publicity.”
Frank fired Jamie as the Dodgers’ chief executive in a termination letter that cited “insubordination, non-responsiveness, failure to follow procedures and inappropriate behavior with a direct subordinate,” a reference to an affair Frank alleged Jamie had with her driver.
When Jamie initiated the divorce proceedings — one week shy of what would have been the couple’s 30th anniversary — she revealed the details of a lavish lifestyle ultimately financed by Dodgers fans.
“Frank and I enjoyed the many perquisites and benefits that come with owning a Major League Baseball team,” she wrote in a court declaration.
She wrote of combined salaries of $7 million per year, plus $46 million to buy side-by-side oceanfront estates in Malibu, $27 million to buy side-by-side homes near the Playboy Mansion, additional properties in Massachusetts, Montana, Colorado, Wyoming and Mexico, $400 dinners and $1,000 per-night hotels, private jet travel around the world, even house calls from hairdressers and makeup artists.