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McCourts appear in court as lawyers argue over selfish behavior

Couple at center of dispute over Dodgers ownership don't acknowledge each other as attorneys trade barbs about her request for $988,845 a month in spousal support.

March 29, 2010|By Carla Hall and Victoria Kim

On the day Frank and Jamie McCourt first appeared in court on their divorce, each side castigated the other for selfish, extravagant behavior, and one lawyer even reached for that icon of excess, Marie Antoinette.

Divorce attorney Sorrell Trope, representing Dodgers owner Frank McCourt, told Los Angeles Superior Court Commissioner Scott Gordon on Monday that even though the doomed French queen may not have actually said of the bread-starved masses, "Let them eat cake," the line "is insightful to this case itself."

After court, Jamie McCourt's divorce attorney, Dennis Wasser, referring to her estranged husband's resistance to giving her financial support, volleyed back: "Who is saying to whom, ‘let them eat cake?' "

Lawyers representing the two sides argued over her request for $988,845 a month in temporary spousal support. Lawyers for Frank said he is receiving $5 million in annual income and that he could reasonably give his wife $150,000 a month.

Lawyers for Jamie argued he has access to $18 million annually. "Mr. McCourt wants to maintain the marital lifestyle," Wasser said, "and he wants to erase Mrs. McCourt from the Dodgers, from the marital lifestyle — erase her, period."

Frank, who fired his wife last fall as Dodgers chief executive shortly before she filed for divorce, and Jamie did not cross paths Monday morning, arriving with lawyers separately and entering the courtroom minutes apart. Sitting in the well of the courtroom, their lawyers massed between them, they appeared never to glance at each other. Neither testified.

Jamie, wearing a cream-colored dress, watched calmly, never flinching, as Trope lambasted her requests as "obscene." Frank, in a dark, pinstriped suit, remained similarly stoic as his wife's attorney scoffed at his contention that the recession had hit him hard.

Outside court, Jamie smiled ruefully when asked whether the hearing had been difficult. "It's sad, right?" she said. "It's a marriage of 30 years." Frank did not appear with his lawyers when they spoke to reporters.

Beyond the support question, the bigger issue facing the McCourts is whether their current marital property agreements, which put the Dodgers in his name and their residences in hers, should guide how the court divides their assets in the divorce. Jamie contends she is a co-owner of the Dodgers — and that her husband believed that as well. Frank states he is the sole owner of the team. A trial on that issue has not been scheduled.

Both sides have confirmed there was an unsuccessful attempt at mediation. Dodgers attorney Marshall Grossman and Frank McCourt attended a late February meeting with a mediator in New York. Jamie McCourt's attorney David Boies attended without Jamie. "It takes two to tango," Grossman said recently.

"It does take two to tango, and we were ready to dance but they weren't," said Michael Kump, her civil attorney, who also noted that Jamie was available by phone that weekend.

"No inference should be drawn from those discussions that Frank is open to any change in the ownership of the Dodgers," Grossman said.

On Monday, the estranged couple's lawyers managed to agree on one thing: They were representing wealthy people battling over money.

"Every need, every want these people had was met," said Wasser, who detailed a lifestyle of seven lavish homes, private jets, hotel suites and daily visits from hairstylists for both Jamie and Frank.

Later, Trope argued the $18-million annual income figure attributed to Frank was farfetched. "I'm apologizing for the fact that my client only makes $5 million a year," Trope said. "It's kind of ludicrous, isn't it, these numbers we're talking about?"

That said, Trope launched a scathing attack on "Mrs. McCourt's needs." He said of the two Malibu homes, she lives in one and "the other residence she uses to do her laundry." He said that she used one of the Holmby Hills houses only for its swimming pool and "the other is just a shack she uses to store furniture." Properties elsewhere go unused, he said.

"I mean, where are we? This is like ‘Alice in Wonderland,' " said Trope, who suggested that Jamie rent out most of the properties to support herself.

But he also offered sobering words about his own client, who he said lived partially on borrowed money — albeit to support Mrs. McCourt's lifestyle, he argued.

"You know, in a marriage, one of the spouses is usually the one that drives a lifestyle," Trope said outside court after the hearing. "… And in this particular marriage, Mrs. McCourt drove this extravagant lifestyle."

Jamie's lawyers said that was a distorted picture of their relationship. "This is a lifestyle they created together," Kump said.

"Frank was intimately involved in the refurbishment of the houses," he added. "They make it sound like they were just her houses. They were their houses and the title was just in her name."

Frank now lives in a condo at the Montage Hotel in Beverly Hills, paying at least $30,000 a month. His lawyer Anne Kiley said, "Thirty-thousand a month to live in the Montage, as opposed to the house she swims in at $90,000 a month."

It is unclear when the commissioner will rule on spousal support. Gordon has requested more briefs from lawyers next month.

carla.hall@latimes.com

victoria.kim@latimes.com

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