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Frank McCourt to ask Boston judge to keep malpractice claim on course

The Dodgers owner wants to maintain the right to sue his former law firm, which was responsible for a since-invalidated agreement that would have given him sole ownership of the team. His attorneys says a case could be worth "hundreds of millions of dollars."

August 02, 2011|By Bill Shaikin
  • Dodgers owner Frank McCourt is looking to sue the law firm that handled his marital property agreement.
Dodgers owner Frank McCourt is looking to sue the law firm that handled his… (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles…)

Dodgers owner Frank McCourt on Monday will ask a judge in Boston to clear the way for him to pursue a malpractice claim against his former law firm that his attorneys say could be worth "hundreds of millions of dollars."

As McCourt wages legal battles in California and Delaware in an effort to keep control of the Dodgers, his court fight in Massachusetts is aimed at preserving his right to sue for a nine-figure damage award if he loses the team.

He is likely to sue even if he does not lose the team. He has promised to repay a $30-million personal loan from Fox with proceeds from a claim against Bingham McCutchen, the Boston-based firm responsible for the since-invalidated agreement that would have provided McCourt with sole ownership of the Dodgers.

"The damages stemming from Bingham's malpractice could be relatively modest," according to his court filing, "or the damages could reach into the hundreds of millions of dollars."

In April, Bingham filed suit against McCourt, claiming he had refused to pay "hundreds of thousands of dollars" in legal bills on the basis of the alleged malpractice and asking for a court ruling that the firm had done nothing wrong.

"Any loss McCourt ultimately incurs will be the result of his own conduct, his financial mismanagement of the Dodgers, and his strained relations with Major League Baseball executives," Bingham attorneys wrote in a court filing last month.

In the hearing Monday, McCourt will specifically ask the court to throw out the Bingham suit. In court papers, his attorneys charge Bingham with "suing the victim of its own malpractice" at the very time McCourt tries to counter its effects in bankruptcy and divorce court.

"It has harmed him in his divorce proceedings by providing his wife with a credible claim that she owns 50% of the Dodgers," McCourt's attorneys wrote. "Moreover, the uncertainty regarding the ownership of the team has precipitated a dispute with Major League Baseball, which may now attempt to force a sale of the Dodgers."

McCourt also asked Bingham to drop its demand that the issue be decided in arbitration rather than litigation. Under a 2006 settlement, the parties agreed that any future disputes regarding Bingham's work on McCourt's acquisition of the Dodgers would be submitted to arbitration; McCourt says the now-voided marital property agreement is not covered under that agreement.

At the time of that settlement, according to a letter from McCourt attorney Glen Summers, the Dodgers owner was unaware that Bingham attorney Larry Silverstein had substituted one page for another in the marital property agreement without notifying McCourt or his ex-wife Jamie, a factor that Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Scott Gordon cited in nullifying the agreement.

In trying to invoke the prior settlement to force McCourt out of the courts now, Summers wrote to Bingham's attorneys, "that raises the specter that Bingham intentionally concealed the initial malpractice and thereby fraudulently induced Mr. McCourt to enter into the 2006 settlement agreement."

A Bingham spokesman said the firm had no comment.

The 2006 settlement was reached after McCourt blamed Bingham for failing to provide proper notification of a deadline related to the renewal of a broadcast agreement with Channel 13, according to a person familiar with the case but not authorized to discuss it publicly.

Under the settlement, Bingham denied any wrongdoing but agreed to give McCourt a 10% discount on future bills and a $750,000 credit, sign a $500,000 sponsorship agreement with the Dodgers over four years, and rent a Dodger Stadium luxury suite for $500,000 over three years.

bill.shaikin@latimes.com

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