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Jamie McCourt considers asking divorce court to order sale of Dodgers

Potential strategy would have a judge force Frank McCourt to sell all of his business assets, including the team. One of his attorneys says the plan would not work because it would cause the change of ownership of an asset in bankruptcy.

August 04, 2011|By Bill Shaikin
(Reuters )

With a federal Bankruptcy Court controlling the future of the Dodgers, Jamie McCourt is considering whether she could get the team sold by asking a divorce court to order the sale of all of the business assets of her ex-husband, Dodgers owner Frank McCourt.

That possible strategy was disclosed by her attorneys on Thursday, after Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Scott Gordon set hearings to decide whether McCourt should reduce the monthly support he pays his ex-wife and if he should pay any of her attorney fees.

Gordon did not set a date to determine ownership of the Dodgers, so that question is likely to be left until next year. Frank McCourt claims sole ownership of the team; Jamie McCourt claims she is the half-owner of the Dodgers.

In his effort to retain control of the Dodgers, Frank McCourt has reached agreement with Major League Baseball on the terms of a $150-million loan to finance the team through bankruptcy proceedings, according to two people familiar with the matter but not authorized to speak publicly because the agreement has not been filed in court. The loan will carry a 7% interest rate, as the league had offered in court, one of the people said.

Attorneys for McCourt had promised to seek permission to sell the Dodgers' cable television rights at an Aug. 16 Bankruptcy Court hearing, but that subject has been put off until a future hearing, the people said. The revenue from the sale of cable rights is crucial to McCourt's hope of emerging from bankruptcy as the Dodgers' owner, according to his attorneys.

Jamie McCourt had asked the divorce court to order an immediate sale of the team, but she withdrew the motion in deference to the Bankruptcy Court. Gordon said Thursday he had no authority to order the sale of an asset under bankruptcy protection.

The bankruptcy filing included five McCourt entities, including the Dodgers, but did not include 19 other affiliated entities, including the parent McCourt Co.

David Boies, an attorney for Jamie McCourt, said his client might ask Gordon to order the sale of the parent company, so a buyer would get the Dodgers as part of the deal.

"If the Bankruptcy Court sells the Dodgers, we don't have to do that," Boies said. "We're giving the Bankruptcy Court a chance to work."

Ryan Kirkpatrick, an attorney for Frank McCourt, said he did not believe such a strategy would succeed.

"It would end up changing the ownership of the underlying asset, which is in bankruptcy," Kirkpatrick said.

Lisa Helfend Meyer, a Century City family law attorney, said Boies could make a reasonable argument that Frank McCourt's actions are endangering the value of what Jamie McCourt says are the couple's assets — but probably not at the same time Jamie argues Frank has plenty of money to pay court-ordered support.

"It's a double-edged sword," Meyer said.

Gordon set Sept. 14 for a hearing on the attorney fee issue, as well as for Frank McCourt's request for temporary relief from spousal support payments and Jamie McCourt's request that he be ordered to pay $291,252 in what she says is past-due property maintenance costs.

Gordon set Nov. 17-18 for a hearing on whether to lower the amount Frank McCourt must pay in support.

The Times reported last week that attorney fees for the divorce could hit $35 million, in what is likely the costliest split in California history.

"It's unfortunate that these people continue to fight," said Dennis Wasser, another attorney for Jamie McCourt. "We hope to get it resolved."

bill.shaikin@latimes.com

twitter.com/BillShaikin

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