Tuesday, October 19, 2010

It's all on the table.

Yesterday, attorneys for Jamie and Frank McCourt submitted to Judge Gordon their proposed statements of decision. While the documents are not meant to be argumentative--Lord knows we've had plenty of that--the way each side suggests Judge Gordon should rule is, of course, a bit biased. I'll be back later today with further detail, but I wanted to give you a rundown of the big issues this morning.

Certainly, the threshold question is whether the MPA should be interpreted under the guidance of California Family Code § 852(a). You'll recall that § 852(a), which imposes special rules for evaluating marital agreements, specifically forbids the introduction of extrinsic evidence as to the parties' intent in executing the agreement. In English: this particular law means Frank can't rely on his several witnesses testifying as to Jamie's lack of interest in the benefits and restrictions of true ownership of the Dodgers.

And it's that evidence, of course, that most powerfully supports Frank's story. If § 852(a) controls, Jamie's argument about the conflicting Exhibit A's gets a whole lot nicer, as Judge Gordon would be barred from considering much of the evidence suggesting that Jamie always wanted the Massachusetts version and never even knew of the California version. Frank wouldn't be sunk, necessarily, but it would certainly be an upset victory if he won under § 852(a).

So what goes into Judge Gordon's decision of which law to apply? Mostly, it has to do with whether the MPA is a transmutation agreement, which must be interpreted by the strict § 852(a) standards. Jamie's side says that the MPA is (of course!) a transmutation agreement: "As [Frank McCourt] seeks to enforce it, the MPA is an attempt to change the character of certain assets." There's a whole lot more that goes into her argument here; whether there was an express declaration of the property being transmuted, whether the type of transmutation being effected is even contemplated by the law, and whether the non-transmutative language of the MPA can be enforced if the rest is struck, for starters. But her point is that the MPA is a transmutation of property under § 852(a) and must, therefore, be subject to its rules, including the barring of extrinsic evidence to prove intent.

Frank's lawyers argue that the MPA is (of course!) not a transmutation covered by § 852(a). Frank wants the MPA governed by § 721(a) and § 1500, both of which would allow the introduction of Frank's precious extrinsic evidence. A transmutation, Frank's side argues, only occurs in three ways: separate to community, community to separate, and one spouse's separate to other spouse's separate. Since the MPA, they say, accomplishes none of those three things, it doesn't fall under § 852(a). This argument goes that the MPA served only to ensure that, upon the move to California, the property would remain separate--the Dodgers Frank's, and the homes Jamie's--pursuant to how they had titled property going back to the Massachusetts days.

Like Jamie's, Frank's proposed statement covers much more territory, and we'll get to both. For now, the takeaway is this: the threshold question is whether Judge Gordon will consider much beyond the words on the agreements themselves. Because of the conflicting Exhibit A's, a determination that § 852(a) controls the analysis would be a big step in the winning direction for Jamie. 


  1. Lawyer question .. 852(a) prohibits the use of extrinsic evidence to demonstrate intent. Does it prohibit the use of extrinsic evidence as to knowledge?

    If no, then the evidence showing that Mrs. M only knew of the MA version should be sufficient to uphold it, right?

  2. Can you post copies of the proposed staements of decision?