Fighting over the home team

Marketplace Staff Dec 7, 2010

Fighting over the home team

Marketplace Staff Dec 7, 2010


Tess Vigeland: This next item has Hollywood written all over it: “Bull Durham” meets “War of the Roses.” Except way nastier. Oh — and this isn’t the farm leagues.

Today a judge ruled in a divorce case that’s transfixed sports fans here in L.A. He invalidated a post-nup between Frank and Jamie McCourt, owners of the Dodgers. And I say “owners” because that’s potentially what this ruling means. They both can potentially lay claim to the team.

But as you can tell, this is far from over and we now wait to see if either party is willing to hit a sacrifice fly. Carla Hall has been covering the story for the Los Angeles Times and joins us with the latest. Welcome to the program.

Carla Hall: Thank you Tess.

Vigeland: All right. For those who perhaps have not been following this with the breathless intensity we’ve had here in L.A. for the past few months, remind us what is at stake in this decision. Nothing less than ownership of the Dodgers, right?

HALL: That’s right. Nothing less than ownership of the Dodgers. Frank McCourt, and Jamie McCourt, his wife, are divorcing and it has been an incredibly contentious legal battle. And the big bone of contention has been their marital property agreement, an agreement they drew up after Frank nominally bought the Dodgers in 2004. It put the Dodgers in his name, it put their private homes — of which they have several — in Jamie’s name. What Jamie said was that she never intended that marital property agreement to define how they divided up their property if they got divorced. So here they are, getting divorced, and she said, actually I’m a co-owner of the Dodgers, and Frank said, actually no you’re not.

Vigeland: And the judge today said, no actually both of you do.

HALL: The judge today said that the marital property agreement is completely invalid and is thrown out. And actually, at this point, that’s about the only thing that both sides agree on. Frank’s lawyers are still contending he’s the sole owner of the Dodgers, because the Dodgers are in his name. Jamie’s attorney David Boies, whom I talked to just a few minutes ago, says no, this actually does make her a co-owner of the Dodgers.

Vigeland: Is that because we are here in California, a community property state?

HALL: That’s correct.

Vigeland: What effect does this have on team operations since the divorce was announced? Other than the Dodgers were pretty terrible this year, which may or may not have anything to do with it.

HALL: This has had little to do with the day-to-day operations of the Dodgers.

Vigeland: But there has, it seems, been a lot of uncertainty, and people wondering, well was this going to affect what players they decided to pick up, because it would affect how much money was involved — that sort of thing.

HALL: That’s right, that has been a worry. But I think what the Dodgers have always maintained is that there’s the money that they have, and they are using it to buy the players that they want. And that it’s different from Frank’s financial dealings in terms of his divorce.

Vigeland: Does Major League Baseball, Commissioner Bud Selig — do they have any say in all of this? Is there any talk that they would get involved somehow?

HALL: The way that they could get involved is they can pressure Frank to sell if they feel it’s in the best interest of the Dodgers and of their ballclub, their league. If Frank and/or Jamie come to Commissioner Selig and say, look we want to sell and here’s how we want to do it, the commissioner has to sign off on all of that.

Vigeland: I suppose the final question would be: any lessons here for future pro sports team owners?

HALL: Well yes. I would say if you’re going to have a marital property agreement, first of all, make sure that each of you is represented by a different lawyer looking out for your interests. Make sure you read every single copy of the agreement you signed. One of the big issues in this case was that Frank and Jamie signed differing copies of the agreement; they didn’t realize they’d done that.

Vigeland: Carla Hall is with the Los Angeles Times and we’ve been talking about today’s ruling in the Frank and Jamie McCourt divorce trial. Thanks so much for your help.

HALL: My pleasure.

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