Unwinding The Spin From The Dodger Divorce Ruling

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Tue, Dec 7, 2010 at 5:24 PM

click to enlarge Frank McCourt: beaten but unbowed - PHOTO BY TED SOQUI
  • Photo by Ted Soqui
  • Frank McCourt: beaten but unbowed
Last March, Frank McCourt gave USA Today a rare interview about his divorce. He reassured fans that everything was business as usual with the Dodgers, and he rejected comparisons to the divorce of John and Becky Moores, which forced the sale of the San Diego Padres.

"When somebody mentions divorce, you think California. Community property state. Sports franchise. And then you throw in San Diego," McCourt said. "But we have marital property agreements that deal specifically with this situation, and that was not the case in San Diego... This is not San Diego."

This is still not San Diego, but it's getting closer. Maybe Del Mar.

As of today, there is no marital property agreement. Judge Scott Gordon threw it out. So Frank's side is no longer making the argument he made to USA Today. Intead, they are now saying that Frank owns the team because the title is in his name. Since no one disputes that, they say this can all be settled in an afternoon.

This is spin, and it should be treated as spin. If it were that simple, there would be no need for marital property agreements, or for the 11-day trial back in September, or even for lawyers. The fact is that Frank lost and it was an important loss.

"This was his best shot," said divorce attorney Lynn Soodik. "It was like putting up your best batter, who struck out. You have other players, but this was your best batter and the bases were loaded."

Jamie's side argues that without a marital property agreement, the McCourts should be treated like any other couple in California. (Like, say, the Moores.) That is to say, no matter who holds the title, their property should be presumed to be community property until proven otherwise. Again, says Soodik, if only it were that easy.

"If the law was so simple they wouldn't each have 10 attorneys," she said. "There's numerous different presumptions that apply. It's not a simple case. They have a very complex case with a lot of issues."

So what's next? It doesn't look like Frank plans to appeal Gordon's ruling. Instead, he intends to take this to a "characterization trial," which should really, truly, finally settle the question of who owns the team. Though Frank's side says it can be completed before Opening Day, don't bet on that. If the last trial is any guide, it'll take months and months of preparation and another few weeks of court time.

Most people probably wouldn't take it that far, but Frank is not most people. As we said back in July, he has a litigious streak. As long as he feels he has legal avenues to pursue, his instinct is to pursue them -- even after a pretty conclusive defeat like this one.

Now, of course, Frank says he agreed to end it all last week by accepting a settlement, which Jamie refused. (In light of today's ruling, you can hardly blame her.) And Frank's attorney, Sorrell Trope, suggested today that he might still be willing to deal. "This case has always been settle-able," he said. "There's no such thing as a non-settle-able case. Frank has been extremely reasonable, and the other side has not."

Jamie's attorney, Dennis Wasser, is not optimistic about a settlement. "I was hoping after the court makes a ruling, there might be some settlement talks. I as a Dodger fan deserve it. The team deserves it. The community deserves it. We deserve to have a resolution of this. Frank has not shown any willingness to settle this case."

And so it goes on.

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