McCourts to try for a set­tle­ment

Af­ter ad­mis­sion about changed word­ing, they and their le­gal teams will meet with a me­di­a­tor Fri­day.

Los Angeles Times - - Sports - Bill Shaikin

An at­tor­ney’s ad­mis­sion that he changed word­ing in the dis­puted mar­i­tal prop­erty agree­ment be­tween Frank and Jamie McCourt — af­ter the cou­ple signed it and with­out telling ei­ther one — has set the stage for a pos­si­ble set­tle­ment, le­gal ex­perts said Thurs­day.

The McCourts and their le­gal teams are sched­uled to meet with a me­di­a­tor Fri­day to try to set­tle their divorce, and with it own­er­ship of the Dodgers.

Af­ter sev­eral rounds of un­suc­cess­ful pre­trial set­tle­ment talks — in­clud­ing two tries with a me­di­a­tor — the McCourts and their lawyers will try again be­hind closed doors in Los An­ge­les Su­peri-

or Court. The sides could save years and mil­lions in con­tin­ued lit­i­ga­tion should they strike a deal, un­der which Frank would be ex­pected to keep the Dodgers and Jamie would be ex­pected to get a nine-fig­ure pay­off.

If the pub­lic com­ments of the lawyers are any in­di­ca­tion, the trial has only bol­stered the con­fi­dence of each side that the other one should yield and set­tle.

“I think the other side is now hurt­ing,” said Steve Sus­man, an at­tor­ney for Frank. “That might lead us to some­thing fruit­ful.”

“I think our case has got­ten stronger,” said David Boies, an at­tor­ney for Jamie. “Whether that can ex­tract a rea­son­able of­fer, who knows?”

The trial is sched­uled to re­sume Mon­day, bar­ring a set­tle­ment. Even if the sides reach a set­tle­ment in prin­ci­ple be­fore then, the trial would prob­a­bly con­tinue, given the fi­nan­cial com­plex­i­ties in draft­ing and fi­nal­iz­ing an agree­ment that in­volves hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars, ac­cord­ing to one of the attorneys on the case.

The trial is sched­uled to end next week. Judge Scott Gor­don would have up to 90 days to rule, but the par­ties could set­tle any time be­fore then.

Larry Sil­ver­stein, the Bos­ton lawyer who ne­go­ti­ated the agree­ment that Frank McCourt claims grants him sole own­er­ship of the Dodgers, com­pleted his third and fi­nal day on the wit­ness stand Thurs­day.

Michael Kelly and Lynn Soodik, two vet­eran fam­ily law attorneys based in Santa Mon­ica, each say Jamie’s chances of win­ning at trial — and thus her lever­age in set­tle­ment talks — in­creased af­ter Sil­ver­stein’s tes­ti­mony.

Sil­ver­stein tes­ti­fied he botched the lan­guage in the agree­ment — three copies said Frank was the sole owner of the Dodgers; three more said the cou­ple jointly owned the team — and then switched out the lat­ter three copies with­out in­form­ing the McCourts.

“I’ve never heard of any­thing like that in my life,” said Kelly, who has prac­ticed law for 42 years.

Kelly said he thought the doc­u­ment switch tipped the scales in Jamie’s fa­vor and said courts gen­er­ally do not up­hold doc­u­ments with con­flict­ing lan­guage. Lisa Helfend Meyer, a Cen­tury City fam­ily law at­tor­ney, said the “am­bi­gu­ity and con­fu­sion” in the doc­u­ments puts Frank at “sub­stan­tial risk” of los­ing.

Soodik said she thought the switch helped Jamie, but not to the de­gree that Jamie would be likely to pre­vail.

Soodik said the court can re­solve con­flict­ing lan­guage by ask­ing what the par­ties in­tended, and tes­ti­mony gen­er­ally has shown that Jamie got what she wanted — homes in her name and busi­nesses in Frank’s name, so cred­i­tors could not seize the homes if the busi­nesses fal­tered. Un­der Cal­i­for­nia law, Soodik said, Jamie could not have re­tained a right to the Dodgers upon divorce if she had agreed the team would be Frank’s sep­a­rate prop­erty.

“I still think he is in the driver’s seat,” Soodik said.

The out­line of a set­tle­ment has been ap­par­ent for months. Jamie, who has ar­gued the Dodgers should be com­mu­nity prop­erty, would drop her claim to own­er­ship in ex­change for a pay­out. Frank is be­lieved to have of­fered just un­der $100 mil­lion and Jamie is be­lieved to have asked for close to four times as much.

The Dodgers were re­jected at least three times in re­quests for fi­nanc­ing last year, court doc­u­ments show, and Frank said he had to bor­row $650,000 from his brother to make court-or­dered sup­port pay­ments.

If Frank re­sists grant­ing Jamie even a small per­cent­age of own­er­ship in the Dodgers, Boies said, then he might need to sell a mi­nor­ity in­ter­est in the team in or­der to af­ford the pay­out.

“They’re go­ing to have to give up some of their eq­uity to a third party,” Boies said.

How­ever, Frank could keep the Dodgers all in his fam­ily and pay off Jamie by ne­go­ti­at­ing a front-loaded ex­ten­sion of the team’s tele­vi­sion con­tract with Fox.

“You may have fig­ured out our deal,” Sus­man said, smil­ing.

In any such deal, Sil­ver­stein’s con­duct could cost Frank mil­lions more than he would have oth­er­wise paid.

“Jamie McCourt is go­ing to get a whole lot more money than he was of­fer­ing be­cause of Sil­ver­stein’s tes­ti­mony,” Kelly said.

How­ever, Soodik said, a set­tle­ment is far from guar­an­teed.

Sus­man said in court that Frank might have been “wiped out” if he had not turned the Dodgers’ fi­nan­cial losses around af­ter his highly lever­aged ac­qui­si­tion of the team.

“Some peo­ple want to set­tle be­cause they’re not risk-tak­ers,” Soodik said. “Ob­vi­ously, he is, or he wouldn’t have bought the Dodgers.”

bill.shaikin@latimes.com

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