September 3, 2014

The McCourt Divorce: Up Close and Personal

As noted yesterday, today I ventured downtown to check out the McCourt divorce trial for myself.  Monday was supposed to be the “big day” with the cross-examination of Jamie McCourt being the centerpiece of the activities, and I would have to say that it lived up to my expectations.

Today’s proceedings began with David Boies finishing up his questioning of his client, Jamie McCourt, and  the remainder of the day was spent on the cross-examination of Jamie by one of Frank’s attorneys, Steve Susman.  Like most court proceedings, the testimony was at some times fascinating and at other times completely boring.

I’ll leave it to the guys that cover the trial on a daily basis (Josh Fisher and Bill Shaikin) to provide all the specifics of what happened and who did well, as I’m conscious that my opinions of what happened are skewed by the fact that a.) I’m not a lawyer and b.) this was my only day in court (so far).  That said, I did want to note a few nuggets that I found interesting:

- Jamie never read the Marital Property Agreement (also known as the MPA), nor the cover letter.  “I may have skimmed it, but I did not read it,” said Jamie.  “I trusted Larry (Silverstein, the attorney for both her and Frank).  I trusted Frank.”

- Jamie asserted that the McCourts discussed selling the team if things didn’t financially turn around within just a few years.

- The McCourts were focused on providing long-term security for their family, which was valued at $15 million per year, and wanted to set aside $250 million in the bank (Jamie thought this figure came from her business manager), but this never ended up happening.

- Jamie wrote notes on index cards every night, highlighting the day’s activities (the examples shown in court seemed to focus on social events, who attended various dinners, etc.).

But perhaps the biggest surprise of the day for me was Jamie stating numerous times throughout the afternoon that she did not understand or comprehend various passages in the MPA and the corresponding cover letter.  She either genuinely does not know the legal terms that were reviewed by Steve Susman in court or this is all trial strategy, but I for one find it hard to believe that a woman as accomplished as she is could not understand the MPA.  Remember, Jamie was an attorney for 30 years (including several years working in the family law arena), earned a B.S. in French from Georgetown, a J.D. from the University of Maryland School of Law, an MBA from MIT and was a visiting professor at the UCLA’s Anderson School of Management.  Jamie’s a smart cookie, right?  After all, I could easily follow along as Susman broke down parts of the MPA, and all I have is a BA in English/Professional Writing from a fantastic liberal arts university.

Besides the trial itself, it was very entertaining to watch the activities that took place in the hallway during breaks.  It’s here that journalists and attorneys mingle, share small talk and sometimes discuss the day’s testimony.  I also found it fascinating to watch the shifting body language of both Frank and Jamie as they entered and left court and huddled with their attorneys in the hallway.  Finally, it was great to finally meet both Molly Knight of ESPN, The Magazine and Josh Fisher of Dodger Divorce.  I really respect their writing on the trial, and it was fun to see them in action.  Also in attendance were Bill Shaikin and T.J. Simers from the Los Angeles Times, as well as several other writers that I did not have a chance to meet.

I’m going to try and get back to court tomorrow morning, so look for another court update by late-afternoon.  At the very least I’ll be blogging from the game tomorrow night, so check back in the evening for pre-game quotes from Joe about the Padres series and his remaining games in Dodger Blue.

We’re Going to Court!

Well curiosity has gotten the best of me, and as a result, I’m going to LA Superior Court tomorrow morning (Monday) to check out the McCourt divorce proceedings which are resuming after a two-week break.  I’ll be there all morning, and possibly all day.

I’ll be reporting on the general goings on, as well as the overall experience of what is sure to be somewhat of a circus.  Jamie McCourt will be on the stand for at least the majority of the day, so things should get interesting pretty quickly.

Follow me on twitter (@dodgerfan_net) for blow by blow coverage of what life at the trial is like, and shoot me any questions that you may have and I’ll try and get them answered for you!

Photo Credit: City Club of Portland

Week One of the McCourt Divorce Rolls On

We’re not legal experts over here at dodgerfan.net, so when it comes to interpreting the moves and counter moves going on in the courthouse during the McCourt divorce trial, we highly recommend reading the great work of Josh Fisher over at DodgerDivorce.com.  In my opinion, this is what blogging is all about: here’s a Dodger fan with a professional speciality that gives him the ability to provide context to the legal maneuverings by Frank and Jamie.  Like a baseball game, Josh evaluates the players involved, their strategies and the results.  Brilliant.  He even made the trip back to Southern California from Minneapolis to cover the start of the trial.  Now that’s commitment.

Oh, and if you’re into the hour by hour minutia of the trial, you can also follow Josh on Twitter as he tweets from inside the courtroom.  Another expert on the McCourt divorce is Molly Knight from ESPN The Magazine, and she’s also on the scene in downtown LA so follow her on Twitter as well for another perspective.  You’ve got to love technology!

Breaking Down the McCourt Divorce Saga

I was preparing to write a story about how refreshed I was heading into the second half of the season, the performance of Ethier, Furcal, Kuo and Broxton in the All-Star Game and some of the good stuff we have planned for the next few months.  But then I read Molly Knight’s anticipated story on the McCourt divorce saga (the article is slated to appear in the July 26 edition of ESPN, The Magazine, but is also available online now).  My response? Ugh.

Molly is a great writer and does a fantastic and what must have been an exaustive job detailing the many twists and turns of the McCourt divorce.  This is no easy task, and frankly, I had allowed myself to forget about several of the numerous unfortunate moments since the couple bought the organization in 2004.

Rather than recap the article and what’s happened in the past, I’d like to discuss some of my big concerns for the future of the franchise:

First, I’ve long felt that the Dodgers are spending just enough to win the NL West, without really investing in putting the club “over the top” to win the World Series. 

Take your four best starters from the group of Billingsley, Kershaw, Padilla, Kuroda and Ely, and see how they stack up to the Yankees rotation. Right now, I just don’t think they have enough experience to win without the addition of a #1 starting pitcher; an ace.  I really love a lot of these guys (with Kershaw and perhaps Bills being #1 starters eventually), but my concern remains that the Dodgers just don’t have the pitching firepower to win it all this season.  And that’s a big problem.  Here are both sides of this issue, per Molly Knight’s article:

While the McCourts were living large, the Dodgers, in 2008 and 2009, spent less than any other MLB team on the draft and international-player signings, an area the team once dominated. Frank told reporters during spring training that the divorce has nothing to do with the payroll; and multiple former club execs say there’s truth to the claim. “It was Frank’s plan all along to run a team with a payroll of about $80 million,” says a former high-ranking club official speaking on condition of anonymity. “His thinking since he bought the team was: ‘This isn’t the AL East. Why would I spend $150 million to win 98 games when I can spend half that to win 90, if that’s all it takes to make the playoffs in our division?’ ” So while the Dodgers have spent money on free agents such as Andruw Jones, Juan Pierre, Jason Schmidt, Rafael Furcal and Manny Ramirez – plus Joe Torre, the game’s highest-paid manager — GM Ned Colletti has structured deals creatively, offering fewer years (Furcal, Jones) and deferring payments (Ramirez, Jones).When asked how the McCourts’ divorce is affecting the Dodgers’ payroll, Colletti, weary of the question, joked: “You think I can answer that?” He says he’s never “heard a number” like $80 million and holds the company line, saying the team would add payroll down the stretch if the right deal presented itself. If the Dodgers were to deal for, say, Cubs lefty Ted Lilly at the July 31 trade deadline, Lilly would be owed just $4 million for the rest of 2010, or roughly one-fifth of what McCourt will pay to divorce attorneys this year. “For the life of me, I cannot figure out why he hasn’t just settled,” says another former executive. “It’s like he’s lost his mind.”

Second, will the McCourt’s settle, or will this be a fight to the proverbial death?  Per a brief conversation I had with Molly via Twitter, she stated “As a fan you should hope they settle before Aug 30, though. And I think they might.”  That would indeed be great news, but how is Frank going to be able to pay Jamie off?  He can’t get a loan, and according to court proceedings, is borrowing money from his brother to make Jamie’s monthly spousal support payments.  If that’s the case, won’t the money have to come from keeping the Dodgers payroll in check and making a big enough profit to pay off Jamie?  Or am I missing something? (If I am, please let me know!)

Third, is Frank McCourt trying to hold on financially until the Dodgers’ television rights come up to bid after the conclusion of the 2013 season?  In February 2010, Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times discussed court documents (submitted by Jamie’s team) that reportedly showed that the club intends to shrink the percentage of revenues spent on payroll through the 2013 season and hold thereafter. Per Bill Shaikin:

The document anticipates a significant rise in club revenue, from $295 million in 2008 to $529 million in 2018, and in the average ticket price, from $29.40 in 2007 to $53.50 in 2018.

Dodgers attorney Marshall Grossman, asked via e-mail what the club would tell fans wondering why the rise in revenue might not be accompanied by a similar rise in the player payroll, responded with an e-mail that noted financial plans are subject to regular revisions.

“It is prudent for a well-run business to engage in ongoing financial modeling and planning,” Grossman wrote. “When the Los Angeles Dodgers have financial information relevant to the public and the fans, it will be made public by the Dodgers.

“The Dodgers’ commitment is to operate on and off the field as a premier baseball organization, for the benefit of the fans and the Los Angeles community. The Dodgers continue to honor that commitment.”

The Dodgers spent 46% of revenue on player compensation in 2007 and 42% in 2008, according to the documents. The projections call for that percentage to fall to 25% by 2013 and remain at about 25% through 2018.

Commissioner Bud Selig encourages teams to spend about one-half their revenue on player compensation, according to two high-ranking major league executives contacted by The Times.

If the document cited in the LA Times story is true, a new television network could give Frank McCourt the financial leverage to pay off Jamie in a settlement, right?  I’m definitely not a lawyer or an expert in divorce proceedings, so will leave this to others that are much more knowledgeable, like the always educational Josh over at Dodger Divorce.

And it continues today: both Molly Knight and Jon Weisman have short pieces on the legal wranglings around the post-nup agreement (it involves forensic scientists and staples….seriously!).

Regardless, this is all a LOT for the casual Dodger fan to take in.  I know a majority of the fans out there don’t care about all of this and just want the ownership to deliver the best possible roster of players and managers to make a run at a world championship.  Unfortunately, both sides of this divorce battle seem intent on keeping it in the public eye until the ownership of the Dodger franchise is ultimately resolved.

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Carlos Delgado (File)

Dodgers Had “Healer” on Payroll for 5 Years

Really Frank & Jamie?  Really?  This story has got to rank as one of the great WTF moments in professional sports this year.

I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to get to the story of the Dodgers and self-described scientist and healer Vladimir Shpunt, but honestly, I find the whole situation so incredibly bizarre that it undercuts a lot of the faith that I want to have in the ownership of the Los Angeles Dodgers.  I refuse to believe that Ned Colletti knew anything about this.

Per Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times:

Frank and Jamie McCourt paid him to help the team win by sending positive energy over great distances.

Shpunt says he is a scientist and a healer, not a magician. His method could not guarantee the Dodgers would win, he says, but it could make a difference.

According to Shpunt’s representative, this could increase the team’s chances of winning by 10 to 15%.  Sigh.  And how much does this service cost?  According to the article, Jamie McCourt’s lawyer says that Shpunt received “certainly six figures and even higher.”

But here’s my favorite part of Shaikin’s article:

Grossman [the Dodgers' attorney] said Shpunt had been “introduced to the Dodger organization as someone who had the ability to observe the team, observe opposing teams and provide evaluations of performance of areas and strength and weakness.”

Hey Frank and Jamie: I meet the above qualifications.  Give me a call…my rates are reasonable.

Photo Credit: Tom Plant/activerain.com