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Testimony by attorney at McCourts' divorce trial sheds light on collapse of marriage

Leah Bishop, who drafted a document that would have granted shared ownership of the Dodgers to Jamie but that Frank refused to sign, describes communications she had with the couple.

August 31, 2010|By Bill Shaikin and Carla Hall

Frank McCourt took the witness stand in his divorce trial Tuesday, a day on which the most riveting testimony shed light on the collapse of a marriage that lasted nearly 30 years.

McCourt considered for months whether to sign a document that would have granted shared ownership of the Dodgers to his wife, Jamie. He said no on May 12, 2009, and later that day Jamie sent an e-mail to Leah Bishop, the attorney who had drafted the proposed document.

Bishop's response: "You have only two tools at your disposal — a civil conversation with Frank or a nuclear bomb."

The couple separated two months later. Bishop testified Tuesday about what she had meant to communicate to Jamie.

"If you don't start talking to each other, everything is going to explode," Bishop said. "It was going to be like a nuclear wasteland."

Tuesday marked the second day of what is expected to be one of the costliest divorce trials in California history, with ownership of the storied baseball team at stake and cross-examination from two of the most celebrated trial lawyers in America.

David Boies, representing Jamie, questioned Frank briefly at the end of the day, with Frank likely to spend a full day on the stand Wednesday. Frank testified that he could not recall many details surrounding the signing of the March 2004 agreement upon which he has staked his claim to sole ownership of the Dodgers.

He did say, however, that he had not demanded anything from Jamie as a condition of signing an agreement both sides have said was designed to protect the couple's homes from creditors.

"I was not looking for something in return," Frank said.

That admission delighted Jamie's lawyers.

"That's our whole case," attorney Dennis Wasser said. "He just said it."

However, according to Frank's lawyers, the couple made a practice of segregating their business assets in Frank's name, and Jamie specifically declined to put any funds into the Dodgers or to join him in signing baseball's indemnity forms.

Steve Susman, an attorney for Frank, guided Bishop through a series of documents in which she had identified the Dodgers as Frank's separate property to Jamie from December 2007 to June 2008. That, Bishop testified, is when she realized Jamie had not understood the consequences of the 2004 agreement, including Frank's sole ownership of the Dodgers.

Susman suggested that was the start of Jamie's effort to reverse the agreement, rather than to understand it.

"I'm not going to say she's lying," Susman said. "I'm saying she is currently remembering it differently than her understanding over that period of time."

On May 1, 2009, Bishop e-mailed Jamie to confirm the explanation from another attorney, Larry Silverstein, that the Dodgers and other business assets were Frank's sole property.

"He's right," Bishop wrote, "but it needs to be changed before you guys kill each other."

In her testimony, Bishop described an emotional meeting she had with Frank on July 22, 2009.

Frank had refused to reverse the agreement, citing concerns about what he perceived as Jamie's erratic behavior. The couple separated July 7, according to court records. Bishop said Frank appeared "agitated and distraught" in the meeting.

"Did I do anything wrong?" Frank said to Bishop. "Did I treat her badly?"

"I said he hadn't been very nice to her," Bishop recalled. "… I had witnessed him yelling at her in front of other people and that was not a nice thing to do."

Bishop said Frank described Jamie as "lacking rationality." Bishop said he asked her to be "Jamie's ally" and to persuade two Dodgers executives and two of the couple's sons to try to talk the sense into Jamie that he believed he could not.

Frank also told Bishop that the Dodgers had a "dysfunctional structure" with Dennis Mannion as president and Jamie as chief executive officer.

"He just realized she thinks she can run the team," Bishop said, referring to her notes from the meeting. Frank told Bishop that was "a total disconnect with reality."

Frank also told Bishop that Jamie needed to find something to occupy her time "besides the Dodgers."

Said Bishop: "He was fine with her being referred to as the most powerful woman in baseball, but not if she really believes it."

Bishop said Frank told her he believed the value of the couple's separate assets were "essentially the same" after debt.

Susman said Monday that Frank had "put not a penny of cash" into the $421-million purchase of the Dodgers. Wasser has said enforcement of the agreement would leave Frank with at least $1 billion in assets and Jamie with about $70 million.

bill.shaikin@latimes.com

carla.hall@latimes.com

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