Dodger Divorce: As Bingham McCutchen Sues Frank McCourt, Whom Should Dodger Fans Root For?
The Dodgers are 1.5 games out of first place.
While baseball fans are focused on whether they can make it back to their cars after a Dodger game without getting beaten into a coma, Dodger (co-?)owner Frank McCourt is dealing with an ambush of his own.
Yesterday, his former law firm, Bingham McCutchen, sued him in Boston, seeking to gain the upper hand in a forthcoming malpractice dispute.
For any good McCourt hater, this raises an important question: Whom should you root for?
In other words, should Dodger fans side with Bingham just because they happen to be suing Frank?
The heart says yes. How could a true Dodger fan disagree with this passage from the Bingham lawsuit:
Despite Mr. McCourt's repeated, public assertions of damage due to Bingham's purported conduct, any injury, loss, or expense he has sustained or will sustain were caused not by Bingham's conduct, but by his own widely-publicized financial problems, huge withdrawals of cash from the Dodgers, and strained relations with Major League Baseball. None of this is attributable to Bingham's work. (Emphasis added.)
That's some crowd-pleasing rhetoric -- which is odd coming from the firm that helped Frank buy the Dodgers. Welcome, Bingham McCutchen, to the McCourt-hating bandwagon!
But wait. Wasn't it Bingham's attorney, Larry Silverstein, who screwed up the McCourts' marital agreement so badly that a judge threw it out last December? And isn't that why Frank is now scrounging for cash to pay off ex-wife Jamie? So says Frank:
"Bingham McCutchen drafted an agreement the Court found did not comply with applicable California law and was invalid because of the conduct of the Bingham firm's lawyers. Mr. McCourt is disappointed that the Bingham firm is unwilling to accept responsibility for its actions and is instead now trying to defend conduct that is indefensible."
And Frank's lawyers would know it's indefensible, because they tried like hell to defend it. But defeat breeds dissent, and now these former allies are at each others' throats.
So, maybe the answer is that there are no angels in this fight, and Dodger fans should just let it play out without taking sides.
But if we ponder it further (and here it's going to get a little wonky) we can arrive at a deeper appreciation of Frank's perfidy.
First of all, Bingham's lawsuit is the strangest damned thing to read. They're not seeking money (beyond, perhaps, the hundreds of thousands of dollars of legal bills that Frank has not paid). Apparently they expect to be sued for malpractice, and they want to get the jump on Frank. So all they're really after is a judicial declaration that their lawyers are not incompetent.
But the evidence suggests that Bingham's lawyers really are incompetent. From Judge Scott Gordon's ruling, it seems that the Harvard-trained Silverstein screwed up at least six different ways -- including by drafting two contradictory versions of the same agreement (an error we dubbed "Silverstein's Boner"); by switching one set of agreements after they were signed; and by doing a few other things that are too tedious to get into even here. Just a total horror show.
But the question raised by the new Bingham lawsuit is this: If Silverstein had done everything right, would Frank have sole ownership of the Dodgers?
And the answer is probably no.
For it to be yes, Frank would have to have wanted the sole right to the team upon divorce. (And Jamie would have to have wanted to give it to him.) And from the evidence at the trial in September, it seems he never said that he did. Jamie was the one who wanted the agreement, and she wanted it to stave off creditors. The issue of divorce never came up.
So how can Frank's lawyer be faulted now for not giving him something he never said he wanted in the first place?
It seems that only later did Frank realize that he could use Silverstein's inept lawyering to deprive Jamie of her share of the team in the divorce. Now that that strategy has failed, it's hard to see how Silverstein's ineptitude is to blame.
All in all, it appears that in a very clumsy way, Frank has wound up more or less where he would have been if he had hired a competent lawyer. He and Jamie are fighting for control of the Dodgers on roughly equal terms, which seems fair enough.
So root for Bingham. They're incompetent, but they get the job done anyway.
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