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Dodger divorce: New lawyers for Frank McCourt, and for his old law firm

February 7, 2011 | 12:44 pm

With the possibility that Dodgers owner Frank McCourt could blame Bingham McCutchen should he lose control of the team, the Boston-based law firm has retained a high-powered firm with expertise in defense against legal malpractice suits.

Bingham has hired Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher, based in Los Angeles and described in the American Lawyer magazine last year as "a top choice for law firms in need of their own rescue, particularly in malpractice litigation."

McCourt, meanwhile, has hired a premier New York attorney to replace Bingham as the Dodgers’ outside counsel.

A Bingham spokesperson said the firm had "asked Gibson Dunn to advise us concerning various matters of California law related to the ongoing situation."

"I think Bingham needed third-party advice from somebody who did not have anything at stake," said Michael Dempsey, a Century City attorney specializing in legal malpractice but not involved on the McCourt case.

McCourt and Bingham parted ways in December after a judge threw out a marital property agreement that would have granted him sole ownership of the Dodgers. However, Bingham retained Kevin Rosen, chairman of the Gibson Dunn legal malpractice defense group, before the judge's ruling and for experience beyond malpractice law, according to a source familiar with the McCourt divorce proceedings.

Bingham attorney Larry Silverstein, who drafted the marital property agreement, testified in September that he changed a key word after Frank McCourt and his ex-wife Jamie had signed the document, without informing either one.

Silverstein said he had simply corrected language to establish the Dodgers as Frank McCourt's separate property, in accordance with what he said was the couple's intent. However, since three of the copies Silverstein prepared listed the team as McCourt's property and three did not, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Scott Gordon ruled he could not determine what the couple had intended.

McCourt has not indicated he plans to sue Bingham if he loses the Dodgers. He has said he wants to try again to establish the Dodgers as his separate property, this time by claiming that he holds sole title to the team and that he bought the team with a company formed before his marriage.

Even if McCourt prevails, Bingham might prudently and reasonably anticipate legal action against the firm, according to Dempsey.

"At the very least, they have to be expecting a demand from Frank that they contribute, whether to his legal cost or to a settlement with Jamie," Dempsey said.

McCourt has retained Joseph Shenker, chairman of the New York-based firm of Sullivan and Cromwell, to replace Bingham as the Dodgers' outside counsel. Shenker did not return calls, but two sources familiar with the divorce proceedings said he is not expected to be involved in them or with any potential action against Bingham.

Shenker represented the New York Giants in obtaining financing for the new NFL stadium the team shares with the New York Jets. McCourt has struggled to secure additional financing for the Dodgers, but the sources said Shenker has not presently been charged with securing capital for the team.

Also, according to a third source, Shenker did not accompany McCourt to the commissioner's office last month, when the Dodgers' owner failed to persuade Major League Baseball to endorse his funding proposals.

-- Bill Shaikin

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