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Jamie McCourt's role in Dodgers controversy

A lucrative TV contract with Fox lacks approval in part because the ex-wife of team owner Frank McCourt has not approved it, according to two people familiar with the matter.

April 28, 2011|By Bill Shaikin
(Reuters )

One reason Commissioner Bud Selig has not approved a television contract with Fox that would serve as a financial lifeline for Dodgers owner Frank McCourt is that McCourt's ex-wife, Jamie, has not approved the deal, according to two people familiar with the matter.

In correspondence with the commissioner's office, Jamie McCourt asserted her right to a say in the Dodgers' television deals by virtue of her half-ownership of the team, according to a person familiar with the communication.

Although he has not discussed his specific concerns publicly, Selig also has objections to the agreement beyond Jamie McCourt's claim, according to the people familiar with the situation who would speak only anonymously because of the possibility that Frank McCourt might file suit against Major League Baseball.

Selig is acting prudently by being wary of approving a deal without Jamie McCourt's consent, even though her stance might not hold up in court, said Lynn Soodik, a Santa Monica family law attorney who has closely followed the McCourt divorce.

"If I were the commissioner, that's the position I would take," Soodik said. "Why subject yourself to a potential lawsuit? I'm not saying she has to sign off, but wouldn't you want her to do it?"

Meanwhile Thursday, Frank McCourt continued to press for a meeting with Selig to discuss what McCourt believes is effectively a hostile takeover of the Dodgers, and the trustee appointed by Selig to run the team made his first appearance at Dodger Stadium.

Tom Schieffer, the trustee, said he spoke with McCourt by telephone Thursday and expects to meet with him Friday. Schieffer said he appreciated that McCourt had instructed the Dodgers' staff to be receptive to him; Dodgers general counsel Sam Fernandez met Schieffer at the ballpark and directed him to what will be his stadium office.

Schieffer said his work overseeing the Dodgers' business operations and Selig's investigation into the team's finances should not preclude McCourt's playing a meaningful role.

"He is certainly welcome to express his opinions," Schieffer said. "He is still the owner of the ballclub. We haven't seized anything. We're here to help."

Those comments are not likely to pacify McCourt. His son Drew took to Twitter on Thursday, challenging the statement by MLB Executive Vice President Rob Manfred that Frank McCourt was "not accurate" in recounting his Wednesday meeting with Manfred and other MLB officials.

"Recap of meeting with baseball was 100% accurate," Drew McCourt wrote. "Manfred's comment not truthful."

The McCourts — and the rest of the Dodgers executives who participated in Wednesday's meeting — were particularly angered by this comment from Manfred: "There has been no seizure of the Los Angeles Dodgers."

Though MLB has not revoked Frank McCourt's ownership, Selig has empowered Schieffer with financial authority over the franchise and has not approved the television contract with Fox that would have provided McCourt with an immediate infusion of close to $300 million.

That effectively constitutes a seizure, according to those close to McCourt, since his inability to access Dodgers funds could force him to miss financial obligations. At that point, Selig could say he has the evidence to show that McCourt is financially unfit to own the Dodgers and say he must install new owners.

"There has been a predetermined result here and … the investigation is not a genuine one," Frank McCourt said in his news conference Wednesday.

McCourt said he would welcome an MLB investigation so long as Selig approved the Fox contract. McCourt said the deal could be worth "in excess of" $3 billion over 17 years, equal to or better than comparable television contracts.

"This transaction is good for the Dodgers, whether I'm the owner or somebody else is the owner," McCourt said.

If Jamie McCourt believes the transaction could devalue the Dodgers — perhaps by foreclosing the launch of a cable channel solely owned by the Dodgers — she could object to the court.

The McCourts filed for divorce 18 months ago, but the court has yet to make a final determination on ownership of the team. Under California community property law, Frank McCourt would have to show why the couple should not split the Dodgers — or at least the value of the Dodgers — on a 50-50 basis.

Frank McCourt has said he can show he is the sole owner of the team and, in any case, that Jamie McCourt has not contested his role as the team's day-to-day decision-maker.

Neither Steve Sugerman, the spokesman for Frank, nor Matthew Hiltzik, the spokesman for Jamie, would discuss whether Jamie McCourt specifically had the right to approve the Fox deal.

bill.shaikin@latimes.com

twitter.com/BillShaikin

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