Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A busy day in divorce land.

On a day I'd be just as happy talking about the team's 2010 hopes, two high-profile writers add to the McCourt divorce saga. First billing goes to the Times' Bill Shaikin, who brings us yet another installment of he-said, she-said:
In making her case for temporary spousal support, Jamie McCourt fired back at her estranged husband in court papers filed Monday, making a reference to Frank McCourt's "extramarital activities."
"Frank [and his lawyers] make some hurtful and unnecessary personal comments about me," she wrote. "I would prefer not to address such accusations or to discuss my belief as to Frank's extramarital activities."
You'll recall that the letter sent to Jamie's attorneys alleging that Frank, too, had an intra-office affair was from an anonymous source. Indeed, it looks like Jamie and her lawyers don't feel comfortable asserting the alleged affair as fact; Jamie's "belief as to Frank's extramarital affairs" is all we've got. Further in Shaikin's piece:
In Monday's filing, Jamie McCourt's lawyers took exception to Frank McCourt's claim that his annual income is limited by bank restrictions to $5 million, arguing that he could access at least $18.4 million this year.
Her lawyers further argue that, by asking the court to deny any temporary support, Frank McCourt hopes to pin her in a financial position so precarious that she would "cave into his demands and relinquish any claim to the overwhelming bulk of the marital estate, including the Dodgers."
I don't know about you guys, but I think this kind of stuff is much more interesting than the alleged affairs or emotional breakdowns. The gist of Jamie's argument here is that Frank's stated liquidity is ridiculously deflated. While he claims that, under certain loan agreements, his payments are capped, she describes such an argument as hollow and misleading. Not only was the cap on his distributions temporary, she says, it also affected only certain income streams. 

And her lawyers are exactly right about what Frank's side is trying to do. That's how this works. I'd suggest he's also trying to force her into disposing of some of the residential real estate; what Frank would call "Jamie's" assets. This would at least create the impression that the post-nup has teeth. 

And, of course, the logical solution here (pay less for lawyers, accountants, experts, etc.) isn't going to happen. As we've discussed, there's just too much at stake to skimp on such things at this juncture. What's $10 million now when the prize is half (or all) of the Los Angeles Dodgers and associated enterprises? If Jamie really finds herself up against the wall, maybe we'll find out how much backing she'd actually have in an attempt to buy Frank out. Surely, one of the potential partners would cosign on her legal bills. Right?

Shaikin's article also notes that things look to have fallen apart for good in April 2009, when Frank confronted Jamie over her relationship with Jeff Fuller. We know that she'd been looking to formally boot the post-nup many months before.

The USA Today's Bob Nightengale has also dived into the divorce. Hi, Bob! For his well-researched, informative piece (which might be second to only the Annual as a starting point), Nightengale sat down with Frank McCourt himself.
The last six months have left him weary, emotionally exhausted and embarrassed, with his personal life and details of his crumbling marriage chronicled everywhere from TMZ to the Los Angeles Times to a burgeoning website: DodgerDivorce.com.
Yet here at Camelback Ranch, as he watches his club in action during a Cactus League game, he shows no sign of stress.
McCourt's voice never wavers in his first in-depth interview this spring, showing a resolve that he will not only endure but also prevail through the most turbulent time of his personal life.
"It's tough. I'm not going to lie to you," he says. "It's a very, very sad thing. Nobody wants to go through this privately, never mind publicly.
"But in L.A., so much of it is about drama. L.A. is so much about personalities. It's just how the city functions. This is a juicy story for people until it's not juicy anymore. Then, they move on to somebody else's story.
"Tiger Woods was fantastic for me."
No doubt. Maybe my memory fails me, but, thinking back, I'm not sure Frank has done a whole lot wrong when it comes to addressing the divorce itself. He's been aloof at times, and he'll certainly offer a clunker of a quote on occasion. But who wouldn't? His lawyers have been much tighter with information, inclined generally to let this play out in court. Which is exactly what you do when, as I believe is the case, the law is on your side.

The damage Frank's suffered due to the divorce is the unfortunate (for him) airing of the club's financial laundry. This isn't a good time to be perceived as playing games with money, even if that's how the world really works and there's nothing untoward going on. And in the "the facts speak for themselves" category, there is that pesky payroll issue. 

You don't get to be the marquee team in Los Angeles and spend about the same as the Minnesota Twins. And even more damning is that the Twins aren't just doing it with payroll; any one of Wilson Ramos, Max Kepler-Rozycki, and Miguel Angel Sano (all recent Twins signees) would probably be the best amateur free agent in the Dodgers' system. No, spending is not a baseball panacea. But it's probably the closest thing we've got.

In Nightengale's piece, Frank also offers his take on the effect of the post-nup. I think he's right on when he stresses that this situation is much different from that of the San Diego Padres, due to the presence of the post-nup. Jamie's lawyer disagrees.
"Mr. McCourt is ducking the issue," Fields says. "He thinks he's going to get ownership of the Dodgers and 95% of the assets.
"They agreed to be 50-50 (owners). And she doesn't want to sell. She loves baseball. She has the ability to buy out Frank if he wants. If he doesn't want to sell, they'll have to figure out a way to run the team together."
I've seen much of Frank's filings; to say he's ducking the post-nup issue is ludicrous. As for however advantageous a position Frank might be in (I'm not sure 95-5 is accurate), it must be remembered that Frank also took a much greater risk than Jamie when agreeing to the terms of the post-nup. That has to be factored into any analysis of the fairness of the agreement. Moving on, I don't foresee any scenario in which the two could possibly run the team together. The only way it could ever work is for both to cede control to a management team, profiting but powerless.

Lastly, Jamie's repeated assertion (through her lawyers) that she is ready, willing, and able to buy the team is well...neat, I guess. Even assuming there is a universe in which Frank would voluntarily allow her to take over, any change in ownership would have to be put through the same approval process Frank endured several years ago. After the events of this winter, can you imagine baseball's owners signing off on an ownership group led (or at least fronted) by Jamie McCourt? I sure can't.

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