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Frank McCourt asks judge to clear way for Dodgers TV contract

Meanwhile, his ex-wife, Jamie, asks the judge to order the team sold because, she alleges, Frank has brought it 'to the brink of financial ruin.'

May 19, 2011|By Bill Shaikin

Frank McCourt wants the judge to clear the way for a lucrative television contract for the Dodgers. Jamie McCourt wants the judge to order the Dodgers sold.

However, both issues could be moot before Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Scott Gordon could rule on them.

On Thursday, Gordon set June 22 as the date he would hear both issues. But Major League Baseball could seize the Dodgers and put them up for sale if Frank McCourt cannot meet their May 31 payroll, and Commissioner Bud Selig does not appear inclined to wait for the court hearing before taking action.

"If he doesn't make payroll, it's over," said a person familiar with Selig's thinking but not authorized to discuss it publicly.

Frank and Jamie McCourt also agreed to renew settlement talks on May 26, with Gordon as the mediator.

Jamie McCourt asked Gordon to order an immediate sale of the Dodgers, alleging in a court filing that her ex-husband had brought the team "to the brink of financial ruin." She considers a sale inevitable, and she argues the highest price could be obtained if she and Frank — not Major League Baseball — could control the sale process.

"MLB is under no obligation to maximize the proceeds of such a sale," according to the filing.

Frank McCourt asked the judge either to approve a proposed television contract with Fox — an agreement he has said would resolve the Dodgers' financial woes and could be worth more than $3 billion — or to rule that Jamie McCourt has no say in the deal.

Fox does not plan to move forward with a contract without assurances that Jamie McCourt would not challenge it in court, according to two people briefed on the matter. Fox would welcome a ruling on whether she had legal authority to contest the contract, according to a person familiar with the Fox position.

"It would definitely help clear up what is a muddied position," the person said.

In his filing, Frank McCourt said Jamie's assertion that she is half-owner of the team and thus could contest the Fox deal "had the devastating effect of causing Major League Baseball to question who controls the Dodgers and contributed to its decision to try to seize control of the team."

Ryan Kirkpatrick, an attorney for Frank McCourt, said his client's uncontested role as the day-to-day operator of the Dodgers left Jamie with no claim to a say in the Fox deal.

"She can't veto it," Kirkpatrick said, adding that the authority of an operator to run a business is "extremely broad."

Dennis Wasser, an attorney for Jamie, said he hoped the league would work with the parties on a settlement before taking any action to seize the team.

"Hopefully, they will join us in this endeavor," Wasser said.

Selig last month appointed a trustee to oversee the Dodgers' business operations. He has said he would neither accept nor reject the Fox deal until a law firm completes an investigation into the Dodgers' finances.

Potential opposition from Jamie McCourt is not the only factor in Selig's consideration of the deal, said the person familiar with the probe but not authorized to discuss it publicly.

It is "not impossible" that investigation could be concluded by May 31, the person said.

Frank McCourt does not currently have the money to meet payroll, although one person familiar with the matter did not rule out the possibility that McCourt could find additional short-term financing. McCourt got a $30-million personal loan to cover the Dodgers' two April pay periods and their May 15 payroll.

However, if McCourt cannot make the next payroll, it is unlikely Selig would wait until the June 22 hearing to act, said a person familiar with his thinking — in part because Gordon might take additional weeks, or months, to issue his rulings.

In addition, if the owners of the other 29 clubs were covering the Dodgers' payroll, those owners probably would want the Dodgers sold and the payroll costs recouped as soon as possible.

Lynn Soodik, a Santa Monica family law attorney who has closely followed the McCourt divorce proceedings, said Frank McCourt might have a better chance than Jamie McCourt to get a favorable ruling from Gordon.

Soodik said Gordon could bar Jamie McCourt from challenging the Fox contract, then award financial damages later if the concern in her filing that the deal "may be below market" turns out to be correct.

On the other hand, Soodik said, Gordon would not want to order the team sold if the judge believed Frank McCourt had any chance at a subsequent resolution with Fox and MLB.

"He can't get the team back," Soodik said.

bill.shaikin@latimes.com

twitter.com/BillShaikin

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