LOS ANGELES (CBS) — A judge has ruled that a postnuptial marital agreement giving sole ownership of the Los Angeles Dodgers to Frank McCourt is not valid, a spokesman for his estranged wife Jamie McCourt said Tuesday.
KNX Legal Analyst Royal Oakes Reports
The decision means the Dodgers could be shared under California’s community property law, spokesman Mark Fabiani told The Associated Press.
The ruling was not expected to affect the Dodgers operations, but it may lead both sides to resume settlement negotiations.
Fabiani said he saw the decision issued by Superior Court Judge Scott Gordon but had not yet reviewed the entire document.
The ruling came after an 11-day trial that focused on whether the signed pact between Jamie and Frank McCourt in 2004 should decide who owns the team.
Frank McCourt contends the agreement gives the Dodgers to him. His estranged wife argues no one told her she gave up her purported stake in the team by signing the document.
Marc Seltzer, lawyer for Dodgers Owner Frank McCourt, released the following statement Tuesday in regard to the tentative ruling issued by Judge Scott Gordon in the McCourt divorce case:
“Frank McCourt is the sole owner of the Dodgers. Any media reports to the contrary are just wrong. This ruling does nothing to change the ownership of the Dodgers. Even without the marital property agreements in place, Jamie has no rights to the team.
“Without the agreements in place, it becomes the Court’s job to determine which property is Frank’s and which is Jamie’s based on who holds legal title to the team. The facts are crystal clear on this point. The Dodgers are solely in Frank’s name.
“For Frank, today’s decision means more time at the court house. Nothing changes in terms of the ownership, management, control or the day-to-day business operation of the Dodgers. That’s all firmly in Frank McCourt’s hands.
“We are very confident there will be no changes to the ownership of the Dodgers. We look forward to getting back in front of the Court as soon as possible so there can finally be closure in this case.”
“I think you’ll see that today’s tentative ruling does nothing to change ownership of the Dodgers. The Court expressly said at the start of its tentative ruling. To quote the tentative ruling: “The Court explicitly does not make any findings with regard to the characterization of the parties’ property or interest in any property within this Statement of Decision.”
“Under Frank’s leadership, the team has had a productive off-season.”
“Here’s what fans can expect from Frank McCourt: a highly competitive team under new Manager Don Mattingly’s leadership, the best baseball experience in the world at Chavez Ravine and a continued commitment to making a real and lasting impact in the community. “
The couple have been embroiled in a nasty and costly divorce trial, where legal bills alone are estimated to top $20 million.
The case has provided the public a rare glimpse into the inner workings of a Major League Baseball team. Through testimony and reams of court documents, observers have learned about the Dodgers’ finances and how the former couple’s lavish lifestyle affected the team.
Although both sides gave differing accounts of what their intentions were when they signed the agreement, one aspect was clear — neither of them read the agreement closely enough. The pact spelled out how their assets would be divided in the event of a divorce.
Jamie McCourt, 56, maintained she was the team’s co-owner and would never have signed away her purported stake in the Dodgers had she know the agreement took it away from her.
Frank McCourt, 57, countered the pact was his wife’s idea so she could protect her separate property — a group of opulent homes — from his business creditors.
Both took the witness stand during the trial and gave snapshots of their nearly 30-year marriage.
Jamie McCourt’s legal team argued the pact wasn’t valid because their client didn’t have her own attorney when they signed the agreement, and Frank McCourt eventually agreed to make all their assets community property.
Frank McCourt’s attorneys countered that their client is recognized by Major League Baseball as the sole owner of the Dodgers, and Jamie McCourt never identified herself as a co-owner.
The Dodgers were hemorrhaging tens of millions of dollars every year under previous owners before the team was purchased in 2004 for about $430 million most of which was financed by short-term loans, according to court documents.
Jamie McCourt testified that she and Frank McCourt frequently talked about selling the team if they couldn’t turn around its financial misfortunes.
Most of the McCourts’ assets have been tied up in real estate and they both argued in court documents they have been strapped for cash despite their affinity for spending. Court documents indicated the former couple has taken out more than $100 million in loans from Dodger-related businesses.
The McCourts often traveled by private jet, spent $14 million to rip out tennis courts to build an indoor, Olympic-size swimming pool and splurged on items such as designer clothing.
The McCourts also have argued about the value of the Dodgers and its facilities. Frank McCourt’s legal team puts it somewhere between $800 million and $900 million, while Jamie McCourt estimates the potential amount at more than $2 billion.
Jamie McCourt was fired in October as the team’s CEO where she drew a $2 million salary. She filed for divorce the same month, citing irreconcilable differences. The McCourts have been married since 1979 and have four grown sons.
(©2010 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)