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Frank McCourt's former attorneys sue him

Law firm essentially asks court to deprive McCourt of chance to sue it for malpractice should he lose control of Dodgers. His spokesman says firm is 'trying to defend conduct that is indefensible.'

April 11, 2011|By Bill Shaikin
  • Dodgers owner Frank McCourt speaks during a Dodger Stadium security news conference at Los Angeles Police Department headquarters on Friday.
Dodgers owner Frank McCourt speaks during a Dodger Stadium security news… (Kevork Djansezian / Getty…)

The dispute between Frank McCourt and his former attorneys erupted into public view Monday when the firm filed suit against the Dodgers owner, who responded with a statement criticizing it for "trying to defend conduct that is indefensible."

Bingham McCutchen, the Boston-based firm responsible for the since-invalidated agreement that would have granted McCourt sole ownership of the Dodgers, essentially asked a Massachusetts court to deprive McCourt of the chance to sue the firm for malpractice should he lose control of the team.

"Any injury, loss or expense he has sustained or will sustain were caused not by Bingham's conduct, but by his own widely publicized financial problems, huge withdrawals of cash from the Dodgers, and strained relations with Major League Baseball," the suit alleges. "None of this is attributable to Bingham's work."

The suit also claims McCourt owes Bingham "hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid legal fees."

The suit comes at an awkward time for McCourt, who has asked MLB to approve a television contract that would give him the money necessary to settle his divorce, manage the Dodgers' debts and maintain control of the team.

Commissioner Bud Selig is wary of approving the deal, concerned that too little of that money would be directed toward improving the team, according to several high-ranking baseball officials not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

MLB spokesman Pat Courtney said the league had no comment on Monday's developments.

In a statement, McCourt spokesman Steve Sugerman blamed Bingham for preparing an agreement that did not stand up in court.

"Mr. McCourt is disappointed that the Bingham firm is unwilling to accept responsibility for its actions and is instead now trying to defend conduct that is indefensible," the statement read.

In the suit, the firm alleges that McCourt "repeatedly has threatened to sue Bingham." As a result, Bingham asked for a judicial finding that the firm had not acted improperly and "did not cause Mr. McCourt any loss with respect to his ownership of the Dodgers."

Bingham has long resisted any suggestion of malpractice, and the firm last fall declined a mediator's invitation to help fund a divorce settlement. Money from Bingham, as opposed to money from television contracts or minority investors, would not have been subject to Selig's approval.

Michael Dempsey, a Century City attorney specializing in legal malpractice, said it is rare for a firm to pre-emptively sue a client. In trying to get what Dempsey called "an early declaration of 'no harm, no foul,'" he said Bingham could get an edge by filing the case in Boston.

"Bingham is a major player in those courts, and a revered institution in Boston," Dempsey said.

Bingham has retained high-profile attorneys in Boston, Los Angeles and Washington for this case.

"That has got to send a real signal to McCourt," Dempsey said, "that they are lawyered up and ready to go."

bill.shaikin@latimes.com

twitter.com/BillShaikin

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