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High cost of McCourts' divorce: $19 million in fees

Dodgers' case could be one of the most expensive in California history. Even other high-profile divorce attorneys are surprised.

March 05, 2010|By Bill Shaikin

Frank and Jamie McCourt's divorce could become one of the costliest splits in California history, with attorneys and accountants commanding as much as $19 million in fees — more than the Dodgers will spend on their starting infield this season.

Frank McCourt has estimated his "divorce-related expenses" at $5 million to $10 million, according to court filings. Jamie McCourt has estimated her expenses at $9 million — and asked that her estranged husband be ordered to pay them.

Although records of salaries and statistics are omnipresent in baseball, specific information about divorce costs is largely unavailable. The Times consulted with several family law experts, none of whom could recall a divorce costing $19 million.

"I'm pretty sure there's not been any litigation in a California divorce where they've spent so much on attorneys' fees," said Lynn Soodik, a Santa Monica family law attorney who represented Meg Ryan in her divorce from Dennis Quaid.

Soodik said it was "very unusual" that each of the McCourts has retained multiple law firms. Seven lawyers appeared in court last month for a hearing on whether to postpone the trial date, on the same day other lawyers in the case were said to be conducting a deposition of Jamie McCourt.

Connolly Oyler, another Santa Monica attorney with experience in celebrity divorces, said a total cost of $5 million would be "consistent with most high-profile cases."

Jamie McCourt has asked that Frank pay $8.5 million to two law firms and another $500,000 to the accountants retained to unravel the couple's finances. In a deposition filed last month, Jeff Ingram, the chief operating officer of the McCourt Group, testified that Frank McCourt could need $5 million to $10 million to pay the lawyers and accountants working on his behalf.

Marshall Grossman, the attorney representing the Dodgers, said fans should not be concerned that the high cost of the divorce would affect player payroll decisions.

"The Dodgers are a solid organization," Grossman said. "This team will still win and make the fans of Los Angeles proud."

The Dodgers did not offer salary arbitration to All-Star second baseman Orlando Hudson, who earned $7.6 million last season. The candidates to start at second base this season include Jamey Carroll ($1.05 million), Ronnie Belliard ($850,000) and Blake DeWitt (about $420,000).

The other infield positions should be manned by shortstop Rafael Furcal ($8.5 million), third baseman Casey Blake ($6 million) and first baseman James Loney ($3.1 million).

In December, Grossman said that Frank McCourt does not "meet the payroll out of his own bank account any more than any other shareholder of any other company does." In his deposition, Ingram said McCourt planned to seek "a simple personal loan" to cover the expenses of the court case.

If the McCourts reach a settlement rather than proceed to trial, they could save millions in legal costs, Soodik said, although significant work to prepare for a trial — depositions, document exchanges and investigative accounting included — is long since underway.

The costs of a divorce can vary widely. Kathleen Dixon, who runs the self-help legal assistance offices in Los Angeles Superior Court, said a couple who agree on how to split their assets and have no child custody issues can file a divorce petition with the court for $355, with fee waivers available.

Divorce lawyers generally charge from $250 to $750 per hour in the Southland, according to Sharon Hulse, executive director of the Levitt and Quinn Family Law Center in Los Angeles. She said a "simple" divorce could cost $10,000.

The Britney Spears-Kevin Federline divorce cost $835,000, The Times reported last year. Former NFL quarterback Bernie Kosar told the Miami Herald last year he spent more than $4 million on attorney fees — at $600 an hour — on his divorce.

Charlotte Goldberg, who teaches family law and marital property law at Loyola Law School, said costs in the McCourt case appear to be extraordinarily high.

"Millions of dollars in a family law case — even in a high-profile one — is unusual," she said. "It's hard to imagine what issues are so complex as to entail such high attorneys' fees."

Marc Seltzer, an attorney for Frank McCourt, declined to comment.

Dennis Wasser, an attorney for Jamie McCourt, said in a court hearing last month that he already had received over 100,000 pages in documents from Frank McCourt's lawyers, in part trying to account for what he said were the "over 30 entities that Mr. McCourt controls."

"I've been practicing law in California for 42 years," Wasser said. "I've never seen the kind of factual data that's involved in this case."

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