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Judge rules McCourt's old law firm can't sue him

Mccourt_640 Dodgers owner Frank McCourt need not defend himself against a preemptive lawsuit from the law firm that drew up his faulty marital property agreement, a Boston judge ruled Thursday.

Bingham McCutchen had sued McCourt in April, claiming he had refused to pay legal bills because of alleged malpractice and asking for a ruling that the firm had done nothing to warrant a malpractice lawsuit. Suffolk County Superior Judge Janet Sanders threw out the suit Thursday, as McCourt had requested.

"To permit the reversal of roles in a negligence action and allow [Bingham] to sue first," Sanders wrote in her ruling, "would upset the traditional right that our judicial system gives to the injured plaintiff to choose when and where to litigate."

McCourt is expected to sue Bingham for malpractice, in a claim that his attorneys could be worth "hundreds of millions of dollars" if McCourt loses control of the Dodgers. In court papers, his attorneys alleged that Bingham sued first in part because McCourt already was waging legal battles against his ex-wife and Major League Baseball.

In her ruling, Sanders wrote that Bingham appeared "to be motivated more by a desire to gain some strategic advantage, not to avoid or minimize any possible future harm."

In 2004, Bingham attorney Larry Silverstein prepared the marital property agreement that McCourt relied upon to establish his sole ownership of the Dodgers. Silverstein acknowledged in the McCourt divorce trial last year that three copies of the agreement provided Frank McCourt with sole ownership and three did not. He testified that he changed the latter three versions -- in accordance with what the  McCourts intended, he said -- without notifying either McCourt or his ex-wife Jamie.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Scott Gordon threw out the agreement, saying he could not tell from the documents exactly what the McCourts had intended. Gordon's ruling led Jamie McCourt to stake her claim to half-ownership of the Dodgers.

If Frank McCourt loses control of the Dodgers, he could blame Bingham and sue them for the value of the lost asset. In court papers, Bingham said any loss McCourt suffers would be attributable to "his own conduct, his financial mismanagement of the Dodgers, and his strained relations with Major League Baseball."

Sanders offered no opinion on the alleged malpractice, limiting her ruling to whether Bingham could sue McCourt before he could sue the firm.

Bingham had asked for a "declaratory judgment" -- that is, a preemptive ruling that the firm had done nothing wrong. In her ruling, Sanders wrote that "the courts in virtually every state where this issue has been presented have declined to allow ... the declaratory judgment procedure to beat the alleged victim ... to the courthouse."

Glen Summers, the attorney for Frank McCourt, declined to comment.

Bingham spokesman Eric Miller said in a statement that the firm would review the ruling and consider its options.

"Bingham is disappointed that the court has determined that it cannot, at this time, proceed to obtain a determination of Mr. McCourt's threatened claims against the firm," the statement read, "and must await Mr. McCourt's filing of a suit to have its day in court."

ALSO:

Dodgers bankruptcy: Frank McCourt vs. Frank Sinatra?

Dodgers win clash against merchandise vendor in bankruptcy court

-- Bill Shaikin

Photo: Frank McCourt. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times

 
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