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Frank McCourt confirms that Dodgers wanted to substantially cut player payroll

On the third day of the trial to decide ownership of the team, McCourt says he planned to reduce payroll in his first two years as owner to help team restore its profitability.

September 02, 2010|By Carla Hall and Bill Shaikin

Frank McCourt confirmed Wednesday that he planned to substantially cut the Dodgers' player payroll during his first two years of ownership in order to help restore the team's profitability.

The acknowledgment came on the third day of McCourt's divorce trial under questioning from his estranged wife's attorney David Boies.

McCourt's attorneys had supported Frank's claim of sole ownership by saying Jamie wanted no part of a venture she saw as risky. Boies, however, portrayed Jamie McCourt as an integral part of the acquisition team and well aware of the business plan to reverse the Dodgers' financial plight within two years.

In his initial news conference as owner of the team in 2004, Frank McCourt said he would maintain a payroll that ranked among the top quarter in Major League Baseball. Some years he did, but in others he didn't, despite repeated assurances to fans that there were funds to acquire top-tier talent.

The McCourts are at trial battling over ownership of the Dodgers. Frank says he is the sole owner; Jamie says the couple shared ownership.

Frank also testified Wednesday that he was willing in 2008 to consider a new legal agreement that would have made Jamie a co-owner of the team.

"Jamie asked me to do that and I acquiesced," he said during his daylong marathon of questioning.

Frank confirmed that he told an estate planning attorney to go ahead and draft a document "and I'll take a look at that." But when the attorney called him asking if he had read the document, "I basically put her off," he said.

By May 2009 he knew he wasn't going to agree to any changes. And by October, the couple was headed for divorce.

The core issue is the validity of a marital property agreement they both signed in 2004 when they moved from Massachusetts to the community property state of California.

The agreement, which they both say was to protect their personal property from business creditors, makes their multiple residences Jamie McCourt's separate property. It makes the Dodgers and some funds Frank's separate property.

Rather, that's what three of the six versions of the agreement do. The three others initially made the Dodgers half hers.

Frank's lawyers contend the versions that excluded the Dodgers from Frank's separate property were made in error. They say a lawyer later corrected those copies to reflect what they contend was the couple's intent all along — to protect their homes from business risk.

Wearing a charcoal suit and blue tie, Frank spoke in a voice so soft he could sometimes barely be heard. He was polite ("Yes, sir," he often answered Boies' questions) and unflinching under hours of questioning.

But he treated most every question on the issue of the marital property agreement like a hot potato that he couldn't bear to bite. He had good reason to choose his words carefully — his understanding of what he signed is key in this trial — but his responses were often obtuse.

When Boies asked McCourt if he had seen the list of his separate property attached to the marital property agreements he signed at one point, he answered, "It was a document I signed. Did I see it? It's hard to say if I saw it."

And in answer to another question, McCourt responded, "Are you asking my memory now? Or my memory then?"

At one point even Judge Scott Gordon seemed baffled by one of Frank's responses: "I don't understand the answer, sir."

Still, Boies laboriously stayed the course.

When Boies was establishing that an e-mailed draft of the agreement was sent to Frank from Tracy Magee, a staffer at the McCourt Company, he asked Frank if she worked for him. "She worked for the McCourt Company," Frank said. "Well, she worked for you?" Boies said. "Uh, unclear on that," Frank answered.

"Well, you don't know any other reason a copy of the marital property agreement would be sent to her except to give it to you, do you?" Boies said.

"I can't answer that," Frank replied.

In the end, McCourt testified that he did review parts of various drafts that were e-mailed to him the day before he first signed them. But when he actually sat down to sign them the next day, he didn't review them thoroughly. That was because, he said, his lawyer assured him that what he was signing was identical to what he had reviewed the previous day.

Boies also presented other evidence that Frank considered Jamie a partner in the Dodgers, including two bank loan applications listing her as an owner. Both Frank and Jamie signed those documents.

As for Jamie's role in the couple's purchase of the Dodgers, Boies asked Frank if she was a key member of the acquisition team.

"Yes, sir, she was," Frank answered.

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