Monday, November 30, 2009

Odds and ends.

Welcome back, everyone, and I hope you had a relaxing holiday weekend. I did, despite my alma mater's embattled coach inexplicably calling a quarterback draw in his own end zone* which resulted in a loss to our most hated rival. But hey, on the plus side, it was a gift-wrapped present to the Athletics Director. Time for a new direction, Lew.

*Yes, even the link to the game story includes "miserable ending." Yikes.

In Dodger Divorce land, there's some fallout from Frank's filing (Monday is alliteration day at DD) in which he claimed to be pretty cash-poor. First, via Shaikin, Jamie's attorney, Bert Fields, expresses some serious doubt as to the viability of the Dodgers under Frank:
"If it were true that he really doesn't have the resources to pay anything, then you'd have serious concern about his ability to run a baseball team," Fields said.
"If Mr. McCourt meant what he said, how is he going to pay all these guys?"
I know I probably don't need to tell you what's wrong with that statement. Suffice it to say that Chad Billingsley isn't being paid out of Frank's checking account. That quote reminds me of Selig's message to Dodger fans a couple weeks ago that the Los Angeles Dodgers are just fine; they're not leaving L.A., so things must be in great shape.  Fields and Selig, both attorneys, are very smart people. Do they not expect the public to see right through this kind of stuff?

Jon Weisman at Dodger Thoughts would like you to know that a possible failure to offer Orlando Hudson and Randy Wolf arbitration should not be seen as indicative of the club's financial strength. After all, Weisman notes, the club has a history of rather interesting arb offer decisions (Jon says "surprising"). If Hudson and Wolf are offered arbitration and decline, of course, the Dodgers stand to net draft picks if the two sign elsewhere.  I'd imagine that clause in Orlando Cabrera's last contract prohibiting the team from offering him arbitration will be a popular stocking stuffer this winter.

In hot stove developments via DiGiovanna and Hernandez, it looks like Ned Colletti landed on "NO" on the Ouija board made the right decision and will not include Billingsley or Kershaw in a deal for Halladay. Thank goodness. I wonder if the Jays would be content with a package built around Carlos Santana. 

Free agent shortstop Marco Scutaro "prefers" the Dodgers and Red Sox. If he meets with McCourt, will he even know which club is pitching for his services? Seriously though, I don't really understand where Scutaro fits in. He has one of the odder career arcs in recent memory, turning in a 4.5 win season (!) at age 33.  He was very good the year before, too, his first season in Toronto. Previously, he'd posted six largely nondescript seasons with the Mets and Athletics. Something to do with exchange rates, perhaps. He says the Dodgers would want him to play second.

I'm a big believer in the "at the right price" model of general managing. Yes, Matt Kemp is available. But you'd better have Zack Greinke or Hanley Ramirez on the other end. So I'm not automatically opposed to adding Scutaro, but is the price (money, draft picks, blocking the position with a multi-year deal) worth the production? Scutaro's fielding numbers have been all over the map, but then again, so has he. Since 2002, he's logged over 500 innings at shortstop, third, and second. He's also played first, left, right, and the ominously ambiguous "OF." In 2007, he butchered third and second while playing a passable short and hitting like a catcher. In 2008, he dazzled at short and hit like...well...a catcher. In 2009, he was mediocre again at short, but hit like a second baseman.

Confused? I am. Jason Rosenberg, too. Rob Neyer thinks he knows. An odd duck, this Scutaro. Lastly, Diamond Leung notes that Chien-Ming Wang is "open" to pitching for the Dodgers. Of course, so am I.

Now that we're only a couple weeks away from our much-discussed December 15 hearings, I expect divorce news to pick up. I know the holiday was last weekend, but thanks for being along for the ride.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Mr. and Mrs. McCourt

A few weeks back, I speculated that the McCourts were worth significantly less than the $1.2 billion suggested by Jamie's filings. The Wall Street Journal's John R. Emshwiller concurs. Mr. Emshwiller notes: 
Mr. McCourt's filing paints the picture of a man who, relative to his lifestyle, is operating without much of a cash cushion. In the filing, Mr. McCourt said his liquid assets consisted of a bank account with less than $1.2 million. 
His filing said Mr. McCourt wouldn't see any significant income until next year -- possibly as late as March -- when he expected a quarterly payment of as much as $1.25 million from the partnership that owns the Dodgers. He said payments from the partnership were "my only source of personal cash flow" other than checking-account interest. Mr. McCourt said his liquid assets recently fell as low as $167,000, after paying about $700,000 in expenses for his wife, who filed for divorce last month. He said the Dodgers don't pay any of his personal expenses. 
By contrast, Ms. McCourt has more than $3.5 million in liquid assets and an additional $1.8 million coming from an investment account, according to Mr. McCourt's filing. Ms. McCourt "is in a much better current liquid financial position" than Mr. McCourt, the filing said. 
H/T to Dodger Thoughts.

First, a word of caution: just like Jamie's filings were unrealistically optimistic about the couple's financial position, Frank's assertions may well be overly pessimistic. That's the nature of this game. But would it really surprise anyone who has followed the McCourts that Frank may be dangerously low on cash? I get many wonderful reader e-mails, and Frank's liquidity (or lack thereof) might be the most popular topic.

Of course, the Dodgers, as an organization, don't depend on Frank's cash reserves. Payroll doesn't come out of his personal checking account, so I wouldn't worry about the Dodgers being on the hook for any overdraft fees any time soon. Still, though, it's sort of shocking to hear someone with a net worth in the hundreds of millions claim to have nearly run out of cash.*

*In the way that multi-millionaires nearly run out of cash, of course.

I have to admit that Frank's assertions are having their intended effect. I'm certainly thinking a little bit differently  about Jamie's request for nearly $500,000 each month. But, as Jamie's lawyer, Bert Fields, responded, "he is not the first husband to claim poverty when he is asked to support his wife." Fields went on to suggest that Frank should be "ashamed of himself" for painting such a bleak picture of his financial condition.

It's a game, folks. Frank needs to show as little liquidity as possible. Jamie needs to demonstrate that Frank has access to millions and millions of dollars beyond his personal checking account. Jamie's legal team has to toe a very narrow line right now. On one hand, they have to argue that Frank's extraordinary wealth makes Jamie's request for nearly $500,000 each month appropriate. On the other, she has to fight the post-nup battle, which--if she wins--will make her support demands fairly ridiculous. 

Before, I'd considered Frank's motion to separate the post-nup litigation from the divorce proceedings a no-brainer, a formality. That might not necessarily be true. The order in which these issues are settled has dramatic implications. The spousal support litigation, if treated first, would set some important precedent the court might follow in the fight over the post-nup. The grant of a figure on the high end of the spectrum could represent a de facto conclusion that the Dodgers are Frank's. Conversely, an award on the low side would suggest the court believes Jamie to be in a better financial situation than she claims.

I still believe the litigation over the post-nup should (and will) be heard first. The division of the assets--and resolution of each party's net worth--is too important to take a back seat to the support battle. After all, if Jamie wins on the post-nup and everything goes into community property, she and Frank will basically have equal net worths. In such a situation, support payments might still be appropriate, but not at the levels Jamie currently demands.

It will be interesting to follow the procedural gamesmanship the lawyers engage in over the next few weeks. It's legal Whac-a-Mole--although, judging by the tone of comments and e-mails, a Hydra analogy might be more appropriate. I'm looking forward to the December 15 proceedings, which will hopefully lend some clarity as to the shape of things to come.
Barring major developments, this will be the last you'll hear from me for a couple days. I know Thanksgiving (and its 24-hour free pass on sentimentality) isn't until tomorrow, but I'd like to say thank you to the readers of this little corner of the internet, and to the proprietors of many other little corners who helped this one get off the ground. Have a safe, happy, and relaxing holiday.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Hurting all over.

The common theme popping up in all speculation about the Dodgers' moves during hot stove season is the question of financial flexibility. Given the looming spectre of the McCourt divorce and the uncertainty as to who will own the club when the dust settles, concerns over the Dodgers' spending are warranted. The divorce is certainly relevant to the team's offseason plans, and discussion of the litigation is appropriate.*

*It better be. What good am I if it's not?

I think Dodger fans should be very aware, though, that the Dodgers aren't alone in their penury this winter. The Giants are looking at the "second tier" of the free agent crop. The Rockies are working with "limited resources." The Diamondbacks, while planning to add payroll, "don't have an enormous war chest." And the Padres expect to take a few years to get their payroll back above $70 million; they're not going to invest in premium pieces this winter.

To say that baseball has financial issues this offseason isn't beating a dead horse, it's stirring glue. And so while the McCourt divorce might force the Dodgers to operate a little leaner this winter, is it possible that might be a blessing? We know how bad, generally, the deals for top-shelf free agents turn out. How's a 37-year-old John Lackey making $17 million sound to you? And those deals just cost money. A deal for Halladay would cost money and talent--there's a heck of an argument to be made that even Billingsley for Halladay straight-up would be a disastrous move.

So amid all the doom and gloom, remember that the divorce might just keep the Dodgers from shooting themselves in the foot by overspending on a pretty weak free agent class. And, in the aggregate, consider that every team out there has its own albatross. Granted, and probably aren't as compelling as this little corner of the internet. But as they relate to offseason spending, those issues are every bit as relevant.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Links and thoughts.

Not a ton going on in Dodger Divorce land today, so here are some other little corners of the internet where there is news:
  • Former Dodger catcher Paul LoDuca is eyeing a comeback. Craig Calcaterra thinks that's a dandy idea but for his drug, gambling, and love-life issues.
  • Memories of Kevin Malone submits for your viewing pleasure its own very well-conceived offseason plan for the Dodgers. Spoiler: it doesn't involve resigning Paul LoDuca.
  • CNN jumps into the McCourt divorce fray as part of a broader look at how divorce impacts businesses.
  • WORLD Magazine (I'm not yelling at you, that's how they title it) suggests that "[w]hatever the legal outcome, the team is likely to suffer." As we've discussed, I don't think that is necessarily a foregone conclusion. The Dodgers are good.
So there's lots of talk about these arbitration-eligible Dodgers. Specifically, who to let go, who to ride with year-to-year, and who to extend. Now, the caveat here is that any extension is fine at the right price. In my opinion, here's the priority of extensions:
  1. Matt Kemp. There really shouldn't be much argument here. Best young center fielder in the game.
  2. Chad Billingsley. Call it a buy-low opportunity. This guy's not far-removed from the superstar track, and none of the injuries figure to be problems going forward. Lock him up.
  3. Andre Ethier. Gotta be sensible here, though. He's not as young as the rest of this group.
  4. Jonathan Broxton. At the right price, of course. He could well catch Eric Gagne disease. This is more of a cost-predictability move, in my book, than a value play.
  5. Hong-Chih Kuo. Can't imagine it'd take much to lock him up for three years.
  6. Russ Martin. Red flags and warning signs abound. Unless he wants to give the club a true sweetheart deal, I don't see it.
  7. George Sherrill. Probably not worth what he'll make next year anyway.
  8. James Loney. I'm gonna look awfully dumb having him this low if the he ends up generating as much power as his swing appears to create. It's a beaut.
  9. Jason Repko. See ya.
Off to a happy hour, a hockey game, and some other undetermined activity that will hopefully start with "h", preserving my alliterative agenda. Have a great Friday!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Move along, folks, nothing to see here.

The Times' Bill Shaikin, among many others, passes along Grand Poobah Commissioner Selig's reaction to questions about the McCourt divorce:
[He] sidestepped the question of what he would say to fans concerned that the Dodgers' long-term future could echo the San Diego Padres' recent history -- an ownership divorce, followed by a sale, management turnover, payroll cuts and the cost-driven departure of popular players.

"There's no reason to get into any debate about what's going to happen," Selig said. "The Dodgers will be in Los Angeles for as long as we're alive and for many generations to come."

Well, off the bat, I think we can all see right through that last line. In fact, judging by the e-mails and comments I get, not a word of what's reported above will fool any of you for a second. Will the Dodgers be in Los Angeles for our lifetimes and many generations to come? Probably, unless Rob Neyer's fears prove justified (fourth bullet down). But can't the same thing be said for the Padres? They just built one of the cooler stadiums (stadia?) in baseball. They're not going anywhere.

Now you probably know this little corner of the internet's thoughts on the Padres-Dodgers divorce comparison: apples and oranges. In the courtroom, on the field, and in the front office--just a completely different situation. The Dodgers are talented and young enough that they will compete for a playoff spot next season without spending a ton on the free agent market. And, while angst abounds among Dodger fans at the moment--$15 parking stings when your owner and his ex-wife co-owners are working out their differences at Spago--nothing puts butts in the seats like winning. And these Dodgers will win.

But that doesn't make debate and discussion about the McCourt divorce unjustified. Selig's comments are really just a microcosm of his approach in general. The umpiring is fine; expansion of replay is unnecessary. The All Star Game is working out just great. November is the new October (maybe). The randomness of a multi-tiered playoff system masks the Yankees' overwhelming advantage over the rest of the league.

Just a couple days ago, Zack Greinke won the American League Cy Young Award with 16 victories. Why? Because, in the most general sense, our baseball world is getting smarter and embracing debate. Wins don't make a pitcher good. Runs batted in don't make a hitter good. High fielding percentages don't make fielders good.

Yes, the Dodgers are staying in Los Angeles. That doesn't mean everything's just fine.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Heads I win, tails you lose.

Could it really be this simple?

Our [Boston] real estate business was highly leveraged. We had always been concerned that if our real estate development operations failed, and the creditors descended upon the business assets, something would be left as a nest egg for us and our four children. We therefore had previously agreed that title to real property that we purchased would be put in my name and would not be used as security for our business ventures.
In mid-to-late 2003, I began the process of acquiring the Dodgers, and Jamie and I were making plans to move our family to California. In Massachusetts, Jamie and I had a long-standing practice of dividing our assets so that our residential properties and various other assets were held as her separate property and my business ventures, including the McCourt Company, Inc., and its related entities, were held as my properties. In late 2003, Jamie became adamant that her assets needed to be protected under the laws and practices in California . . . . She said that she did not want to have any risk of liability if any of my present or future business ventures, including the Dodgers, led to creditor claims against me.
Even though title to real estate was in my name, Frank and I had always considered the real estate to be our property, just like the Dodgers. It was always my understanding that the document we signed in 2004, in anticipation of moving to California, would simply preserve [the protection of the real estate in case of the failure of Frank's business ventures] under California's marital property laws.
Frank's lawyers:
[Jamie] got exactly what she wanted when, in 2004, she thought it was in her best interests to secure sole ownership of prized residential real estate and other assets for herself and to insulate them from the risks associated with her husband's business ventures. She now wants to turn that reasoned decision into a "heads I win and tails you lose" agreement: hiding behind the agreement if her husband's business ventures failed, and denying the validity of the agreement if they succeeded.
By asserting that he solely owns the Dodgers, despite our mutual understanding and despite his accurate and repeated depiction to the public of us as co-owners of the Dodgers, Frank is seeking to take unfair advantage of me and blatantly abuse the trust and confidence I have always placed in him.
Let's stop for a breather here. That last line gets me a little. She had so much trust and confidence in Frank that she deliberately insulated himself in case his leveraged business ventures failed. I mean--that's how it works, which is fine, but please: call a spade a spade. Jamie was afraid of what would happen to the family wealth if the McCourt Company faltered.

That was probably a reasonable fear. If the McCourt wealth was tied up in real estate development (and not the Los Angeles Dodgers) as of Fall 2008, there would be big, big problems. But it's not. Or, at least, Frank's isn't. Is it really this simple? Did Jamie just get terribly unlucky, like millions of Americans? As Frank would have us believe, she made a decision, and a very reasonable one at the time, that her wealth was safer in real estate than in Frank's businesses. She was so certain of it that she took specific steps to ensure that her net worth was tied to the value of the real estate, not the McCourt Company and, later, the Dodgers.

On August 6, 2008, the couple's estate planning attorneys forwarded to the McCourts the documents necessary to revoke the post-nup. Two days later the Dow was at 11734.32. Two months and two days after that, on October 10, it hit 8451.19.  The market would bottom out on March 6, at 6626.94. Throughout the winter, Frank avoided the revocation of the post-nup, and for good business reasons. In April, Forbes would value the Dodgers at $722 million, nearly double what he paid to purchase the club in 2004. Meanwhile, the assets allocated by the post-nup to Jamie had likely suffered cataclysmic losses.

The market crash, caused primarily by the devastating burst of the real estate bubble, was foreseen by a number of people who truly understood the securitization of mortgages and other receivables--and the problems which would result if home prices fell. Is it that unreasonable to think that mere days before the beginning of the greatest American economic disaster since the Great Depression, Frank McCourt might have been a little wary to put his future back in residential real estate and chop his interest in the Dodgers in half?

For whatever reason, Frank McCourt decided that his marriage was not worth revoking the post-nup, which proved extremely favorable to him. Jamie got stuck in the same boat as millions of others: real estate, once a safe haven and lucrative long-term investment, tanked. Frank's assets had not suffered the same disastrous fate. It was an economic decision of the purest sort: the marriage was worth less to Frank than his assets under the post-nup minus the risk of having the post-nup invalidated in a divorce proceeding. Frank made a fortunate gamble earlier in his life, and maybe he's done the same here.

I'm not going to make a value judgment as to Frank's decision. Breaking up a marriage--especially one with four children--is a terrible thing, generally. But we just don't know enough about the factors leading to the divorce. When Frank ultimately refused to sign the post-nup, he knew he was going down a path which would likely lead to divorce. If his motivations were purely financial--that is, he realized that Jamie was screwed and this was the right time to cash out of the marriage--he sure comes off as greedy. But I'm not willing to dismiss the possibility that the marriage was broken already, and Frank just made a wise business decision to enforce the agreement Jamie had wanted in the first place.

I've defended Jamie in the past for asking for the moon in the divorce, because it's just what one has to do. I'm not going to jump on Frank yet for essentially doing the same.
I'll be on KFI AM 640 in Los Angeles this afternoon at 2:30 Pacific to talk about the McCourt divorce.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Catching up, refreshing.

I've received a number of e-mails recently asking about the next steps in the McCourt divorce litigation. I know that very many of you already know the basics, but some new information allows us to talk a little bit more about what will happen next month.

On December 15, the court will hear two motions:

Jamie's request for spousal support.

As we've discussed at some length, Jamie seeks approximately $488,000 each month from Frank. We've known for a while now that this number includes lost compensation--Frank, of course, fired her last month. Her numbers do not include the Dodgers-paid benefits, perquisites, and emoluments due her as  an owner of the Dodgers. Depending on the dollar values Jamie's attorneys assign to private jet travel, unlimited access to the Dodger Stadium owner's box (in and out of season), and the privilege of having such former Dodger greats as Kip Gross or Antonio Osuna at her beck and call, the monthly payment she seeks figures to skyrocket.

So what do we know about Jamie's support request that we didn't a week ago? Well, if the post-nup stands, she'll badly want this monthly cash from Frank. Her wealth will be mainly tied up in residential real estate, which Frank estimates to be worth "over $100 million." She also has some bank and investment accounts in her name, and she will keep all her vehicles and the couple's artwork. Still--the money's in the houses. And what do we know about high-end real estate now? The market ain't pretty, and who knows what it's all worth today.

Before, I thought she was liable for all the debts secured by the homes. I now know this not to be the case. She is responsible for debt which amounted to approximately $38 million in 2004. I don't know if that figure has gone up or down, but it does look like Frank agreed to pay all of the debt on certain after-acquired properties in California, although the deeds are solely in her name. The upshot here is she has significant personal wealth in the homes, but it's not unlimited. Not in the slightest. Getting a high monthly support payment from Frank is a big deal going forward, because otherwise she might have to at least think about her spending habits.

Frank's motion to bifurcate the post-nup litigation from the rest of the proceedings.

Here's where the Dodgers are on the line. Frank has requested that the court split the litigation over the post-nup from all other matters. To my knowledge, Jamie hasn't objected to this request. And she really has no need to--resolution of the post-nup first makes the most sense. It's the threshold issue to the rest of the divorce.

If the court upholds the post-nup, then the rest of the process should be pretty straightforward. Courts tend to function pretty darned efficiently once people stop needing them to actually decide anything. A determination that the post-nup is valid and binding as to all parties would mean the Dodgers (and related properties) are Frank's and the residential real estate is Jamie's. There will be little flare-ups here and there, but once the post-nup is upheld, there's a finite number of ways this can be resolved.

If Commissioner Gordon rules that the post-nup is invalid for whatever reason, that's when things get very, very ugly. In fact, it's at this point of the litigation that the Dodgers would likely be sold. Let's say the couple has a total net worth of $600 million. Each McCourt would need to get something darned near half of that. Since I don't expect that number to be reachable without touching the Dodgers, we're left with a number of possibilities.

The club could be sold to a third party and the cash put into the pot of community property to be split in the divorce. Alternately, one party could somehow take on partners in an attempt to buy the other out of ownership in the team. Another possibility that is dependent on how leveraged the Dodger assets are is that one party could borrow enough against the Dodgers to pay the other off. Judging by the tone of your e-mails, you all are not in favor of an owner encumbered by a ton of debt.

These are only three of many possibilities if the post-nup is invalidated. Frankly, I'm hesitant to even hypothesize more about it at this point. It's pretty easy to look at what might happen if the post-nup works. If it doesn't, we're in this for the long haul, and the viability of the Dodgers as a going concern will be in question. Generally speaking, businesses just don't run very well when there's significant doubt as to who will be in charge in a year or two.

Tonight's bottom line.

The post-nup issue won't be resolved on December 15. Heck, it will barely be introduced. Any fireworks for the day will likely concern Jamie's request for spousal support. But knowing what we know now, I think we can talk with much more certainty about what the post-nup litigation will look like.

I expect to have something else tomorrow morning. Well, it will be morning for most of you anyway.

A few notes.

So something pretty neat happened this morning: I got my grubby little paws on hundreds of pages of Frank's filings.* This set of documents includes some of the Dodgers' attempts to be a party to the litigation--which Commissioner Gordon rejected. This e-stack of legalese also provides an unbelievably detailed account of the history of the post-nup. Now, as you all have surely figured out by this point, I can't get through four pages of documents in less than 2000 words. What to do with this many pages...well, I can assure you we won't be out of things to talk about any time soon.

*I intend to have the link up soon. Have to take care of a couple things first.

Real life intervened today, so a thorough parsing of the filings will have to wait. For now, I offer a couple notes on the viability of the post-nup. One of Jamie's anticipated defenses to the documents is that they should be unenforceable because she did not consult with separate, independent counsel before signing them. Her argument will point the court toward caselaw suggesting that the document was of such importance--and involved so much money--that an unrepresented party might be at such a disadvantage that the transaction cannot be upheld. Frank, of course, will counter by reminding the court that Jamie is a lawyer and should be presumed to know when she needs outside help.

Frank says that Silverstein did encourage the McCourts to retain their own attorneys, but did not believe the failure to do so would fatally undermine the post-nup. A few years after the execution of the agreement, the couple sought legal advice about the possibility of rescinding the document. Frank claims that the couple's estate planning attorney concluded that the post-nup was "sufficient to accomplish [Jamie's] goals" in dividing the assets.

A few other nuggets from the docs:
  • Frank claims that Jamie was "secretly" consulting with divorce lawyers at the time she tried to get Frank to consent to returning the Dodgers to their community property.
  • Frank's lawyers also imply that what spurred Jamie into all this drama might have been the crash of her assets' values (real estate) juxtaposed with the dramatic increase in the worth of the club. 
  • My fantastic (literal definition) attempt to undermine the post-nup via the Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act might have been even less plausible than I thought. Apparently there's some caselaw out there which suggests that if the post-nup was executed before the couple moved from Massachusetts to California, the agreement might not count as a "transfer" anyway--Massachusetts is not a community property state. I think this issue might be close, as the post-nup had the effect of a transfer. But again, an attack on the agreement would require a creditor to bring a claim, and that's only one of many hurdles. 
It's very easy to look at this from the outside and view the McCourts as works of fiction. Because of their frequent inability to understand the simplest principles of public relations, they have nearly become satires of themselves. Be it Jamie's "face of the Dodgers" statement and pool sufficiency requirements--her nickname in an e-mail to Frank is "Swimmer"--or Frank's confusing P.R. gaffes and generally poor fit in Southern California, it's awfully tempting to evaluate this situation like a serial TV show. What will next week bring?

The "human element" has come under attack in baseball circles recently in the context of umpiring--and rightly so. But as I delve through this mountain of legal documents detailing the stunning immolation of the McCourt marriage, I am sometimes struck by just how human these folks are. Whatever you believe of the motives behind the McCourts' actions--genuine, manipulative, or just simply aloof--well, all of the possibilities depress me.

We'll talk throughout the week about the nitty gritty of this newest store of information.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Jamie's Hail Mary.

Be forewarned. This is long, complex, and highly likely to be more enjoyable for me than for you. If cockamamie scheming, impossible gambits, and mostly ridiculous* fantasies well-outside the realm of reasonableness (and probably accuracy) are not your thing, just come back tomorrow. We'll be back to your regularly-scheduled news and analysis very, very soon. But if you're up for a little journey, indulge me:

*Remember, there's a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. The Shyster told me so.

I'll be honest up front: this is not the potential factual scenario I alluded to last night. I still might go to that at some point. In fact, I'm sure I will. But I've hit an interesting point in my blogging career: I have fabulously smart readers. More than a few of you commented or e-mailed in asking a whole lot of questions that can be pretty well summed up like this:

Since the post-nup was executed for the purpose of shielding assets from creditors, is it legally enforceable?

Now, your questions and comments raised this point in a number of different contexts: bankruptcy, fraud, conspiracy, tax evasion...heck, there might have even been a treason allegation or two. So let's talk.

First, the sort of arrangement the McCourts engineered is common and (usually) perfectly legal. There is nothing necessarily wrong about a couple structuring their assets in such a way as to obtain favorable tax or legal positions. So when does that sort of agreement lead to liability? If the post-nup was executed to avoid claims of specific creditors, that's bad. If the agreement was made because the couple reasonably anticipated imminent liability, that's bad. If the document was signed, but the factual situation hidden from creditors--i.e., if Jamie borrowed money secured by the Dodgers without the lender knowing she had divested herself of ownership--that's bad.

It's just fine that, if Frank was to go bankrupt, Jamie would have the wealth attached to the houses. That's what the post-nup is for. It's perfectly ok that if the residences lost all value and the bank tried to go after Frank's equity in the Dodgers, he would tell it to go pound sand. That's precisely what the post-nup is for. Many of you have structured your assets to protect them for your benefit or your children's. Many of your parents may have done the same. It's usually just fine.

With that in mind, I am going to offer a bold proposal by which Jamie could make an end-run for the Dodgers. But first, I have to say a few words:

What follows is hypothetical and for entertainment purposes only. It is not legal advice to Jamie McCourt. You should not rely on this strategy in your own $1.2 billion multi-million dollar divorce. You should never press these buttons in your lawyering videogame. You should bench this idea in your legal strategy fantasy league. Get the picture? This is probably a terrible idea, but damn is it a lot of fun to think about.

1. Jamie should drop her motion for spousal support right this very minute. 

"Now Josh," you're saying, "haven't you written multiple times that Jamie is doing exactly what she should be doing in her demands? Didn't you say she should be asking for the moon?"

I sure did. But that was before I saw how difficult it's going to be to fight that post-nup, assuming Frank's version is true as to the important parts. So here's the thing, for the sake of this exercise: Jamie is flat screwed. She legally signed away all her rights in the primary asset of the marriage. All she's left with is real estate she bought between 1998 and 2008 for approximately $120 million, including her listed capital improvements to the residences. Now, tell me something: expressed as a percentage, what do you figure super high-end real estate is worth now compared to a couple years ago? Especially in Southern California? You all will need to tell me; I don't know. Haven't lived in SoCal for about 6 years, and I wasn't in the market for Malibu beachfront property when I was there.

I really don't know what the property is worth. I do know that she lists nearly $65 million of debt on the real estate, and let's say that number can be pumped up a little bit somehow. For purposes of this Hail Mary, anyway. Point is: can Jamie make a plausible case that the liquidation value of all her property is less than her total debt? Time for Jamie's Hail Mary to begin.

2. Jamie should stop paying her bills. 

Mortgages, utilities, lines of credit, cell phones...whatever in the world Jamie owes, she should stop paying immediately. For this Hail Mary to work, so to speak, she'll need to send the receivers way, way down the field into quadruple coverage. And what's more, she'll need to throw into it pretty soon. Basically, she needs to piss off as many creditors as she possibly can. The paper boy should be angry. She needs to make her goal in life to make everyone who extended her any credit hopping mad.

3. With any luck, her creditors will kill her for her defaults, and she'll definitely owe more than the liquidation values of the real estate.

At this point, the mortgage-holders will start foreclosing on her property. Don't be scared, everyone: this is what we're going for. Someone, at some point, will realize they're not going to get paid. And that someone will think to himself, "but this is Jamie McCourt! She owns the Dodgers!" Au contraire, mon mortgage lender. Frank does. And he's hiding behind his post-nup wall, telling Jamie's creditors to pound sand. But little does he know that all hell will soon rain down upon him.

4. Jamie's creditors will force her into bankruptcy.

Again, this is ok. All part of the plan. The receivers are getting close to the endzone, and it's almost time for Jamie to heave up her prayer. She winds up and starts her crow-hop...

[Warning: law ahead]


The Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act, as enacted in California, provides that a creditor harmed by a fraudulent conveyance of assets can get the judge to basically reverse the transfer if, indeed, it was "fraudulent." Now, the point of this story isn't to get all law-reviewy on you, it's to have fun. If you want to debate the hard law of the UFTA's application in this case, feel free to comment or e-mail. I will definitely get back to you.

There are two kinds of fraud covered by the UFTA: actual and constructive. An actually fraudulent transfer is one made with intent to "hinder, delay, or defraud any creditor." A constructively fraudulent transfer occurs when an exchange is very unbalanced in value, and was made either in response to or anticipation of a whole lot of debt. I mean, it's way (way) more complicated than that, but hopefully this works for now.

Among the factors the court will consider in analyzing "actual" fraud are whether the transfer was to an insider (check), whether the person transferring an asset still retains control of it (possible check), if there was a lawsuit, or the threat of one (likely check--businesses get sued all the time), and whether there was an extreme imbalance in value exchanged (check).

Lastly, the transfer is probably fraudulent if it leaves one of the parties legally insolvent--that is, their debts exceed their assets.

Sheesh, that was a lot of law-talkin'. Ready to get back to our warring couple? I sure am.


So Jamie's creditors will say that the post-nup was a fraudulent transfer under the UFTA. They'll argue both fronts, actual and constructive. If the post-nup left Frank insolvent (remember, at the time he bought the Dodgers, he took on $421 million of debt for a $371 million purchase)...well, that would help a lot. It's the funniest thing: Jamie will go through all of these hoops in the hope that the judge will find the couple's post-nup to be fraudulent--including her role in creating it.

Now, this isn't guaranteed to work. In fact, there are lots and lots (and lots and lots) of legal arguments against it, Jamie's bad faith in executing this plan included. But walk with me:

The bankruptcy judge will allow a creditor to go after the Dodgers. Now, normally, an attack under the UFTA only reverses the transfer as to a specific creditor; in usual circumstances, the rest of the creditors can't jump in. But with Jamie in bankruptcy (a federal sort of thing), different rules apply. There's some precedent out there for voiding the post-nup in its entirety, especially if the judge believes it's the only way to make sure all of Jamie's creditors get paid. So think about where we are:

Jamie is dead broke, but she didn't lose. Instead, she's successfully beaten back the post-nup, and voila! The Dodgers are community property again! It's my opinion that there is significantly more equity in the Dodgers than in the real estate--Jamie wants her fingers in the club, not the property. And she's got it. She's demolished her credit, burned through maybe 20% of the couple's net worth, and undertaken a course of action which only a tired, overworked blogger could possibly conceive.

But who cares? She's got her 40%! And in the process, she's probably made it impossible for the McCourts to keep the Dodgers. Frank won't have the money. Jamie, if she really does have the backers, won't have the credit (or the credibility). The team will be sold, and each McCourt will walk with a hundred-million or two. And the Dodgers move on, merely a pawn in one of the most outrageous legal dramas in recent memory.


In all seriousness, folks, there's a host of problems with this scenario. But the UFTA is real, and there's a heck of an argument that the post-nup could be within its reach. It's more believable than Jeff Kent breaking his wrist washing his truck. And if Jamie's lawyers haven't at least thought of the UFTA, they're doing a terrible job. If Frank's right about the story behind the post-nup, and there's not a smoking gun somewhere (like the situation I said I would tell you about today before this popped up), Jamie might be feeling a little desperate. And you know what desperate people do?

They go nuclear on a hundred-million bucks of real estate in a barely plausible, highly suspect, and horribly misguided attempt to circumvent disastrous post-nups. In other words, they throw Hail Marys.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Frank's side of the post-nup story.

I won't beat around the bush. Frank:
In early 2004, Jamie proposed that we execute a written marital property agreement that would expressly provide that the residential real property and all of the other assets held in her name [going back to the Boston days] would remain as her separate property (thereby protecting these assets from claims of my business creditors), and all of the assets held in my name [including the Dodgers] would remain my separate property.
You might remember Jamie's thoughts on the post-nuptial agreement which gives Frank the Dodgers and Jamie the couple's residences. In case you don't, here's an example:
It was never my understanding that the purported effect of the document Frank asked me to sign in 2004 was to transfer the bulk of our assets to Frank. I was not represented by independent counsel in connection with that agreement. I was not told that by signing the agreement I was supposedly divesting myself of the vast bulk of the wealth we had accumulated during our then 25 year marriage. I was simply told that I needed to sign the document because we were moving to a "community property" state and that we therefore needed to make sure that our homes remained separate property beyond the reach of our myriad business creditors.
So that's her story. "Look, this document was put in front of me, my loving husband asked me to sign it, and I did." If you squint your eyes, tilt your head 30 degrees to the right, and hum softly (and forget she's a lawyer), you can see her account of things making sense.

Frank, of course, does not feel this way. Thanks to a reader e-mail (you guys are the best!), we have a brief glimpse into his side of things. It's my understanding that I have four pages of a hundreds-of-pages-long document, so this is by no means definitive. But gosh, it sure is interesting. Let's go crazy, Broadway Dodger Divorce style!

  • Back to their time in Boston, the McCourts had a "long-standing practice" of dividing up their assets such that she had residences and personal property while he held ownership interests in the business entities. 

    • This would protect much of the family's wealth in case Frank's aggressive business ventures went south. Remember that Frank's been called the "king of leverage." It's not unfathomable that, had the timeline been a little different, the businesses might have been demolished in the recession and the split asset plan would be extremely beneficial.

  • Frank says it was Jamie who grew adamant that her assets had to remain protected upon their move to California, as the laws there differ from those of Massachusetts. 

    • "She said she did not want to have any risk of liability if any of my present or future business ventures, including the Dodgers, led to creditor claims against me."

  • As quoted above, Frank claims that Jamie asked for the continued separation of the assets upon the move to California.

    • He says they had "several discussions" with their attorneys about the topic, and the couple had no disagreements about the intended effect of the document.
    • The agreement was signed on March 31, 2004.
    • Frank claims he entered into the agreement to honor Jamie's request to make sure she was independently wealthy in case something happened to the businesses or to Frank.
  • According to Frank, Jamie never questioned the validity of the document--expressly or otherwise--until the summer of 2009.

    • Frank's getting tricky with words here. Jamie says that in 2008, they "both instructed [their] estate planning attorney to prepare new agreements" which would make the entirety of their assets community property. Jamie might not have attacked the document's validity, but she clearly expressed her discomfort with it.

  • Still, though...twice more in 2004 the couple executed documents ratifying the original agreement, and Frank took further steps in 2007 and 2008 to divest himself of interest in the couple's residential holdings.

    • Frank acknowledges that as far back as 2007, Jamie began making noise about putting all the couple's assets back into community property. Their estate planning attorneys drew up a Community Property and Transmutation agreement. Sounds terrifying. As Frank's lawyer wisely notes, these steps would be wholly unnecessary if the original agreement was somehow invalid.
  • Frank never signed the new document, and told Jamie in May 2009 that he had no intention of doing so.

    • You might want to sit down, and those with cardiac problems should take some deep breaths and consider not reading on, but: Jamie wasn't very happy about this. Frank's legal filings contain copies of Jamie's e-mails on the matter which I'd love to see, but don't have.
  • The couple separated for good when Jamie left on that July trip to Israel and France with Jeff Fuller.
So where do Frank and Jamie's accounts really differ?

Mostly as to Jamie's intent (or lack of it) with respect to the post-nup. Frank says it was exactly what she wanted, Jamie says she had no idea what she was giving away. Jamie's arguments here are significantly compromised by a few different factors.

Many of the standard defenses to contract formation don't fit here. Jamie does not seem to lack capacity to contract, she's certainly not an infant, and I'd be awfully surprised if she suffers from a mental illness. Did Frank just get her wasted  before she signed it? She doesn't allege it. She does ask for a wine budget in her monthly expenses, though...

The thrust of Jamie's argument will be that there was a mistake as to a key element of the agreement--namely that the couple did not know the full effect of the post-nup. To me, this seems undermined by the couple's history of splitting their assets to shelter their homes and other property from business creditors. The very way they chose to do this was to divide their property. Jamie might not have contemplated a divorce, but it sure sounds like they knew what they were doing.

Jamie might also say that Frank understood what the post-nup did, but she did not. It's true that a contract might be invalid if one of the parties is harmed by a facet of the agreement that person didn't understand.

The problem is that, sometimes, you take the risk of a faulty assumption. You might contractually agree to bear the burden of a mistake, or you might know you don't have enough information and go forward anyway. Or, a court can allocate the risk of a mistake to you, if it is "reasonable" to do so. Jamie McCourt is a lawyer. A court can hold her to a much higher standard, reasoning that with her sophistication and background, she will be presumed to mean what she signs.

Jamie's next strategy here might be to assert that the agreement between the two cannot be valid for lack of consideration. Basically, for a contract to be enforceable, each party must give something up to get something back. Jamie will say that what she got out of the post-nup--the residences--is so much less valuable than what Frank received--the Dodgers--that the agreement should be unenforceable.

I don't like her chances on this one. While consideration is a requirement, equal value need not be given. It is enough that each party knowingly gives up one thing to get another. Especially among people of considerable sophistication, a rule of thumb is to let the parties decide how much is enough.

From my perspective, unless Jamie can prove that Frank was misleading, fraudulent, or otherwise acted in bad faith, she's going to have a difficult time getting out of the agreement. Just because she later decided she gave up too much in the deal doesn't mean she can just get out of it. See Juan Pierre, 5 years, $44 million. The kind of smoking gun I'd look for is Frank concealing the fact that the Dodgers were included in the agreement. Because of her heightened burden, I don't think she can win on this unless Frank took active steps to hide the fact that ownership of the club was involved.

Jamie's last haven might be that Frank used his position as her husband and manager of the family assets to unduly influence her to sign the agreement. She paints the picture that he essentially put the document in front of her, and told her it was necessary for Jamie to sign it as part of the couple's move to California. I just don't like this argument. An agreement related to a division of the couple's assets is too important to allow Jamie, a lawyer, to say she didn't think she needed to check it out. Absent some shady conduct on Frank's part in inducing her to sign the post-nup, I cannot see a court giving Jamie the benefit of the doubt here.

So what's the bottom line?

Frank's declaration offers some insight into the demise of the McCourt marriage. His assertion that Jamie was behind the split of the assets in the first place is interesting, as are his claims that he let her call herself a co-owner of the team "in the interests of family harmony." While there's all kinds of information out there which could change my opinion, I see Frank as having the early advantage in the battle for the Dodgers. Crazy things happen in courts sometimes, and Jamie's going to pay some great lawyers lots and lots of money to make my analysis above look like Berenstain Bears work. "How did you get out of your Pack 'n Play, Josh?" they will ask. But these are the bloggy risks you take.

In this little corner of the internet, we're concerned primarily with two things: the post-nup and the McCourts' net worth. Resolution of the asset-transfer issue will pave the way for the permanent disposition of the Dodgers. If Frank wins on the post-nup, he probably keeps the Dodgers. If Jamie wins, we'll have to wait to see if one has enough money to buy out the other. Based on the very limited information I have in front of me, I like Frank's chances more today than I did yesterday.

This is all I can manage for the day, but tomorrow we'll discuss one potential factual scenario under which Jamie signed the document that would make for some very, very explosive litigation.

And if you didn't catch it earlier, this link will take you to the little I've seen of Frank's documents.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Jamie speaks.

Sat down with the Screaming Meanie on Tuesday morning, and how about that, even cutting into Jamie McCourt's negotiated swimming time.

Perhaps unaware he would open his column with multiple shots at her, Jamie McCourt offered T.J. Simers an extended interview on a wide variety of topics. I'm sure you'll get excellent blow-by-blows elsewhere, so I'll stick to what I know: the divorce.  Jamie's relevant quotes, and my quick thoughts:

  • "I'm a baseball girl. Frank likes the real estate side."

    • Smart strategy here by Jamie, implying many times throughout the interview that she's vital to the baseball operations side of the club. She also throws Frank under the bus on the extravagance of the couple's homes, again saying he's the real estate guy. She also uses this set-up to blame Frank for parking pass price increases at the Stadium.
    • Of course, when it really came down to it, she signed away the baseball team, and he gave her the real estate. That sort of contradiction eats into her credibility a little bit here.
  • "Let's remember it's how we lived and not how I lived . . . . [Jamie's demand for so much money was] something that had to be done at the time."

    • Jamie has an excellent point--because she is in the position of asking for money, it appears like she's the only one living the extravagant lifestyle. It was how the married couple lived, and she's simply asking for that to remain available to her.
    • As we've discussed, she's right on. She has no chance of getting a dime (or a benefit, perquisite, or emolument) that she doesn't ask for up front. I don't fault her strategy here, and I hope that however you feel about her lifestyle, you recognize that to ask for less right now would be foolish.
  • "My dream would be to have a coalition of people [owning the Dodgers]. . . . I don't need to be the controlling interest, I just love baseball that much and want to stay a part of it and lend my expertise any way I can."

    • I gotta say, my alarm bells are ringing like crazy right now. To me, that quote says she knows she doesn't have the cash to buy out Frank's half (assuming the Dodgers are community property). If there's a silent minority out there hoping Jamie ends up with the team...well, those hopes take a big blow if that quote means what I think it means.
  • "I met Frank when I was 17, dated him for eight years and was married to him almost 30 years. . . . I trusted the man." 

    • Here, she was explaining why she signed the post-nup without raising concerns as to its effect. As we'll talk about tomorrow (sneak preview!), she might be in deep trouble if Frank's preliminary assertions are right.
I encourage you all to read Simers' account in its entirety. Like his style or not, we certainly need to be thankful for his reporting. There's some great stuff in the interview about ticket prices, payroll, and even Jamie's relationship with her bodyguard/driver/lover Jeff Fuller. The quotes above offer significant insight into how the divorce proceedings will move forward and provide background about the coming battle for the Dodgers.

Thanks to an intrepid reader, we have more original documents to talk about tomorrow. See you then.

Keep an eye out.

Los Angeles is such a funny place. T.J. Simers is surely best known to the Dodger Divorce types by his nickname for Jamie McCourt--the Screaming Meanie. You would figure that if Jamie was to bare her feelings, it might be to Steve Lopez, whose recent words about her were kind (if not their implications). But, this being Los Angeles, Jamie sat down with Simers and opened up about a number of topics. Mike James previews the coming revelations:

McCourt made it clear, "I have never been with another man until the marriage broke up. Ever. Ever."
She went on to rebut a number of allegations mentioned in court filings while  explaining comments like "I've been the face of the Dodgers," which have opened her to ridicule.
Simers' full account will be posted later this afternoon, so I'd imagine I'll catch up with you all then.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Cuban a possible purchaser?

Ok, well since this story's blowing up everywhere, I might as well throw my hat into the ring:

This should really be a non-story right now. At the earliest, we're months from even knowing who even has authority to sell the Dodgers. What's more, Cuban's bid to buy a major league team was already rejected once. Granted, he's now expressing a desire to finance the purchase a different way, but putting together an ownership group with one controlling shareholder has its own difficulties. For one, you've got to, you know, find those other multi-millionaires. There just aren't as many of those walking around these days.

I guess the mini-frenzy about this Cuban news is to be expected, and Lord knows we'll have all the time in the world to internet-vet* all of the potential purchasers of the Dodgers--assuming the team will be sold. I just think this was your fairly typical statement of interest. This is your Theo Epstein "of course we like Roy Halladay" sort of thing. Mark Cuban, a wealthy man who has tried to buy a baseball team in the past, would potentially be interested in a baseball team. Until we get at least a little ways down the path on this ownership dispute, I can't get too terribly interested in individual candidates.

*Posnanski would call this "intervetting."

I should point out, though, that I would love someone with Dodger roots--or at least Southern California ties--to end up with the Dodgers. Part of the reason Los Angeles never took to the McCourts, in my opinion, is that they were clearly not Californian in any meaningful way. Not the "Californian" I feel, anyway, when looking out from my Aisle 124 perch toward the left-field bleachers at dusk. I guess it's the naive fan left in me; I want the owner of the Dodgers to actually love the Dodgers.

Update: Cuban denies interest in Dodgers, says e-mail was "all headline and no substance." According to Cuban, the Times seems to have read too much into his words. A clear example of why we need to be very patient with ownership rumors, treating them just like hot stove rumors.


Definitely my three favorite letters in Jamie's petition for spousal support. See, the $487,634 monthly Jamie seeks does not include the stuff she's most ridiculed for: the private jets, unlimited travel expense account, pricey lunches and dinners, and even the professional hair and make-up services. Jamie either wants access to the long list of benefits, perquisites, and emoluments she used to enjoy as the obscenely wealthy wife of an owner co-owner of the Dodgers--or further cash payments each month to allow her access to these services. This affords me the occasion to ask: what is the dollar value of access to such Dodger greats as Billy Ashley and Jeff Shaw?

Yeah, it's sort of a slow day in Dodger Divorce land. Sure, there's this Boston Globe piece on the McCourts which describes Jamie telling Frank to shut up in a meeting when the two were trying to buy the Red Sox. The story mostly paints the picture that Frank's the visionary and Jamie's the details person. An attorney who knows Jamie speculated about a topic we've discussed at length, saying he doesn't understand how she could play the "he tricked me" card regarding the post-nup. It's a neat article, but there's not a whole lot there we didn't know already.

There's so much out there we just don't know yet. What did the post-nup do exactly? Did he actively try to deceive her? How much money do they really have? Do they have their tax ducks in a row? Is there any mismanagement of funds which might present a serious legal issue?

We're in the bottom of the first of a game that might go into extras. One thing I'm just dying to know (as I've expressed to a few of you who have e-mailed in): what in the world happened between 2004 and 2008? There couldn't have possibly been bad blood when Jamie signed the post-nup in 2004. She seems smart enough that, if she had any idea Frank was going to make a power play for the Dodgers, she wouldn't have signed away her interest in the club. So...what broke? Was Frank planning this all along? Or did it dawn on him some time after the post-nup that he might be able to cut her out?

I imagine we'll find out in due time.

For now, the day's links:
  • Tim Kurkjian says that if the Dodgers have to trade players to improve their pitching, that "has to start with Chad Billingsley." I was going to respond here with how terribly, awfully, magnificently bad that idea is, but...
  • Jon Weisman has that covered. Jon also has some terrific advice for keeping a clear head through the hot stove season, and many of his guidelines will be helpful around here, too.
  • Bob Dutton of the Kansas City Star offers a rumor that the Royals and Dodgers are considering an Alberto Callaspo for A.J. Ellis swap. I know how Dutton works; he wouldn't print that if he didn't have reason.
  • Tim Dierkes projects the Dodgers to end up with Felipe Lopez and Erik Bedard in free agency. MLBTR also notes via Shaikin and Hernandez that the Dodgers will not pursue Aroldis Chapman.
  • The Times' Bill Shaikin has notes from an e-mail conversation with Mark Cuban, in which the outspoken NBA owner says he'd be interested in purchasing the Dodgers as the controlling shareholder in an ownership group. Cuban would not be interested in the type of debt-driven acquisition which enabled the McCourts to purchase the Dodgers.
Back with more later, as events warrant...

Friday, November 6, 2009

Manny exercises his option, which is even better news than you might think.

Via every single source talking Dodgers at this time of night, we've learned that Manny Ramirez has exercised his $20 million player option for 2010. Why does that matter in this little corner of the internet? Because I wonder about the team's financial flexibility this offseason due to the contested ownership of the club. Many will speculate as to whether Ramirez is really worth the money. In my opinion, Ramirez's return via the option was the club's best--and maybe only--opportunity to land a potentially-elite player this winter. Even if he's just a $14-$16 million player next season (Fangraphs-value), I believe it's better than the team might be able to do on the open market. As Yankee fans will tell you this week, no one cares about overpaying a guy who helps deliver a championship.

Six with Jamie ties shown the door.

The LA Times this morning confirmed reports I'd heard yesterday that the Dodgers axed a few employees with heavy ties to Jamie McCourt. Per the Times:
Six front-office employees who were hired by former Dodgers vice president Charles Steinberg were fired. They were public relations officers Mark Rogoff and Drew Merle, vice president of creative services Tom Catlin, graphics manager Courtney Cowsill, fan services and hospitality director Jahaan Blake and supervisor of the Ambassadors program Alyssa Shuman.

Steinberg, who was hired by Jamie McCourt, was essentially fired by the team last month by her estranged husband, owner Frank McCourt.
There was speculation in the middle of October that Steinberg, a "marketing/public affairs whiz," might be exploring a return to the Red Sox front office. Frankly, if I made my money as an expert in public relations, getting fired by Frank McCourt would almost seem like a compliment. What interests me about this story is that it illustrates something I've been thinking about for a couple weeks.

Jamie, as we know, has called herself the "face of the Dodgers."* She paints herself to be an integral cog in the front office, responsible for enhancing the club's operations and reputation. Just yesterday, her lawyers claimed she "eats, lives, and breathes the Dodgers." You'd think that such a wonderful CEO would be widely cherished throughout the organization. Through this whole process, however, there have been very few people within the Dodgers coming to her aid publicly. In fact, I can't think of any.

*Ironically, this is now true.

Now, it's my fervent hope that the Dodgers are run by very smart people, and a very smart person would foresee Frank's hammer dropping swiftly should they speak out on behalf of the club's co-owner former CEO. That said, I'm a little surprised some enterprising folks haven't taken the leap of faith to get in good with Jamie right now. She claims to have the backing to buy out Frank's interest. It seems to me that taking a public stand for Jamie is just the sort of thing a half-crazy, half-genius employee might do. Is it possible that, within the organization, no one really liked Jamie?

Of course, this is litigation, not a popularity contest. Part of Jamie's strategy going forward will be to show that, in addition to being the titular CEO, she was invested in the Dodgers in every relevant way. If she's serious about wanting the high end of her support demands--the number which makes up for lost wages--she might want her lawyer to never, ever say anything like this again:

There would be no discord in the Dodgers' office if she were reinstated to do what she was doing -- out dealing with the community, out dealing with philanthropic issues to further the brand of the Dodgers. If you want to call that largely ceremonial, so be it.

The emphasis is mine. It's awfully hard to physically speak in italics. This is the sort of thing that won't sink Jamie's case by any means, but do you really want it out there?


A few links for the day:
  • Jon Weisman passes along some terrible news about a Southern California-born minor league baseball player. Designate a driver, folks, or get a cab. 
  • Craig Calcaterra muses about the Giants' Tim Lincecum and his recent pot bust while speeding on a Washington highway.
  • Maury Brown takes a look at bang-for-your-buck and shows that this season's Dodgers weren't terribly efficient with their spending.
  • Joe Posnanski sums up the reality of the Yankees' payroll.
  • And if you want to hear my interview on 830 KLAA yesterday, see below wait until I figure out how to embed audio correctly. I suspect that if I typed with as many um's and uh's as I talk, my readership would not be very strong.
Since I'm apparently incapable of even the simplest coding, here's the direct link.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The journey of 1000 miles...

...began this morning. Here's what you need to know:
  • Court Commissioner Scott Gordon, who will be handling the proceedings going forward, ruled that Jamie's reinstatement request was premature and she will not be going back to work. Commissioner Gordon suggested that he might entertain her arguments again if the Dodgers are found to be community property per California law.
  • Resolution of the ownership issue is a long ways off. Jamie's attorney doesn't expect the fight for the Dodgers to even begin this year, and it wouldn't surprise me in the least if the issue still isn't settled by opening day.
  • Commissioner Gordon removed the Dodgers as a party to the litigation, which will significantly limit the club's role going forward. While it should be expected that representatives of the organization might provide information to the court, the Dodgers will be mostly unable to influence the direction of the litigation.
Who won today?

If I had to pick a winner, it'd be Jamie, but this was really like one of those mid-September Royals/Orioles games...yeah, there's a box score, but is there really a story? The main event of today's hearing was the reinstatement petition, which Jamie lost. But, as we've discussed, she probably didn't want to win that one anyway. The lasting impact of today's hearing will be the result of a match on the day's undercard: the Dodgers as a party. Jamie's successful attempt to exclude the Dodgers as a party is the most important outcome of the day. Oh, and she got her lap-pool access, so: good for her.

What's next?

Frankly, I'm pretty surprised that Jamie didn't ask for any money today. Commissioner Gordon did forbid either party to remove the other's name from credit cards, so maybe there was some discussion in court about Jamie's access to funds for reasonable expenses. That said, once her petition for reinstatement was denied, I expected Jamie to ask the court for a temporary spousal support award to tide her over until next month's hearing. Perhaps her lawyers (wisely) figured that with credit card access and a $500,000 payment from Frank to cover what remained of her 2009 salary, further demands were inappropriate at this time.

Next month, you say?

The next fairly significant proceeding will take place on December 15, when the court will hear arguments concerning spousal support. Jamie, you may recall, is seeking nearly a half-million bucks per month from Frank to allow her to live the lifestyle to which she is accustomed. If today was 3.5/10 on the intrigue scale, I'd expect the December 15 hearing to register at an 8 or 9.

For Dodger fans, the most important issue in the divorce is ownership of the club. It looks like there was a hearing scheduled for November 30 to take arguments on a motion to separate the litigation over the post-nup from the rest of the divorce. I'm having trouble tracking down information on that hearing, and I'm not sure I can rely on the court's schedule from this morning, as it's already been changed concerning other matters. In any event, the hearing to discuss bifurcation of the post-nup battle will be the first step in the most important element of the McCourt divorce.

Update: That hearing has been rescheduled for 12/15 as well. Big day in Dodger Divorce land!

You mentioned a surprise?

Oh yes, the surprise. I will be on a.m. 830 KLAA in Southern California at 3:40 (Pacific) this afternoon to discuss the McCourt divorce. If you're wondering what your favorite Dodger Divorce poster sounds like with a head cold, tune in and find out!

Jamie's not headed back to the office.

Per the AP.

Court Commissioner Scott Gordon said that there was no California law supporting her stance. I know you were all waiting for pool news, too, and here it is*: Jamie will have to just make do with that ever-so-small pool at the $27 million Malibu beach house. And the Pacific Ocean, of course. No word on whether Jamie's request for a restraining order was granted, but it seems likely, as Gordon is giving each McCourt two trips to the other's house to pick up personal belongings. Both parties have also been enjoined from removing the other's name from credit cards.

*Update: TMZ got their facts wrong the first time around. Jamie gets 6am-2pm indoor pool use at the Holmby Hills residence that Frank will keep through the proceedings. Sorry folks.

**Update to the update: Frank's not staying at that house after all. He'll be at an undisclosed location for now. Guess here is as far from Los Angeles as a G-IV can take him a posh hotel.

Carla Hall of the LA Times reports:

Although [Jamie's] attorneys had argued that [her reinstatement bid] was simply a matter of returning her to the “marital status quo,” Commissioner Scott Gordon found otherwise.
“From an employment analysis, there’s no law that would support the court reinstating an employee,” Gordon said. The commissioner said that the issue of whether the team is community property is a complex issue that should be decided at trial, not at the emergency hearing he was presiding over today.

More to follow...and am I the only one getting a kick out of "Commissioner Gordon"? Only in L.A....and it gets better: Commissioner Gordon's chambers have an unobstructed view of Dodger Stadium. If a clever reader can Photoshop a Matt Kemp batsignal, his or her work will be featured on such prominent websites as: this one.

Also, that AP article mentioning Commissioner Gordon's view notes that Jamie might have another opportunity to ask for reinstatement if the team is declared community property. As of this morning, the first hearing in that mess of litigation was scheduled for November 30, but the unrelated December 1 hearing on maintenance was pushed to December 15, so I'm not confident this morning's schedule is still accurate.

Some fairly important developments from Dylan Hernandez of the LA Times. Most notably, the Dodgers will not be allowed to participate as a party to the case. This doesn't mean they won't be involved, but it certainly limits their ability to steer the litigation. Additionally, Jamie's attorneys don't expect the battle for ownership of the Dodgers to begin in earnest until the calendar flips to 2010. We've seen some well-known family law attorneys speculate that this might drag out over the course of 24-36 months, so pull up a comfortable chair and grab your popcorn.

Update: No, I'm not the only one amused by "Commissioner Gordon." Some fun stuff in the comments at Dodger Thoughts.

I'll have a more organized reaction to today's proceedings up a little bit later, along with a little surprise.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A primer on tomorrow's hearing.

What's happening?

Tomorrow, the McCourts square off for the first time in Los Angeles County Superior Court. The court will hear Jamie's arguments as to why she should be reinstated to her position as Dodgers CEO. Her lawyers will paint her as the "face of the Dodgers," vital to the club's ongoing operations. She may also contend that the Dodgers are being harmed by her absence, and thus the failure to reinstate her might devalue a contested asset in the divorce. Jamie will initially seek to have the Dodgers' filings, including those prepared by Frank's lawyer, excluded from the hearing.

Frank and the Dodgers will do their best to portray Jamie's role with the team as merely ornamental. Moreover, they will suggest that to reinstate her at this time would be detrimental to club operations, as the rift between Jamie and Dodgers brass is just too great to overcome. This side will also oppose Jamie's motion to exclude the Dodgers from the hearing, pointing out that the Dodgers have information relevant to the proceeding and stand to be affected by its outcome.

What's at stake?

In the short term, not a whole lot. While Jamie has to ask to be reinstated, I highly doubt she wants to be. Don't take this to mean tomorrow isn't important, though. There are very significant long-term implications:

  • The battle for the Dodgers begins tomorrow. While not vital to Jamie's claim to half the club, persuading the court that she had an actual role in the organization--and an important one at that--sets Jamie up very nicely for the ownership dispute to come. If Frank can establish that Jamie's role was for show, his claim to sole ownership gains momentum.
  • The stage will be set for the spousal maintenance fight. Remember that Jamie's demands are dependent on her role with the organization. If she's not reinstated, we'll be poised for a bitter clash on December 1 about whether her maintenance award should include pay for her former position. Incidentally, the court may use tomorrow as an opportunity to admonish Jamie's legal team for asking for money she's already been paid--namely, the $500,000 Frank's given her to cover the remainder of her '09 salary. Then again, it's California, so maybe not.
  • The role the Dodgers will play in the divorce might begin to take shape. While a divorce is an inherently personal sort of thing, so much of the acrimony concerns the club. Ownership is contested, wrongful termination is (almost) alleged, and (arguably improper) benefits and perquisites of employment/ownership are sought.
So what's gonna happen?

The Dodger Divorce prediction is that Jamie will not be reinstated. The Dodgers will be allowed to participate in the litigation to a degree. Losing the battle for reinstatement, Jamie will ask for a temporary maintenance award to tide her over until the December 1 hearing. If the court doesn't think that the half-mil from Frank to cover her salary is enough, my guess is that she'll get something at or below the low end of her demands; think $300,000ish.

Then again, this is California we're talking about, and crazy stuff happens.

A final thought.

The McCourts might have more at stake tomorrow than they've considered. As Craig Calcaterra notes, the McCourts' best chance to keep the Dodgers is probably to arrive at "some kind of truce as soon as possible that would keep joint ownership to some degree." If things get as bitter in court tomorrow as they've been in the filings and newspapers thus far, that would seem nearly impossible. If you're a member of the majority (anti-McCourt) party, root for fireworks.