McCourt vs. MLB: Judge could decide winner in November
Frank McCourt could know by mid-November whether he can retain ownership of the Dodgers, according to a schedule set forth Friday by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court.
In his order, Judge Kevin Gross set a four-day hearing -- Oct. 31, Nov. 1, Nov. 2 and Nov. 4 -- and wrote that McCourt and Commissioner Bud Selig would be expected "to testify in person."
Gross also struck a huge blow against McCourt by ruling that the Dodgers' owner cannot put Commissioner Bud Selig or the other owners on trial. McCourt and his attorneys have said Selig forced the Dodgers into bankruptcy by rejecting a television contract, one of several instances in which they claim he has treated the Dodgers differently than he has other clubs.
"This Court will not turn the [Dodgers'] ills and whether the Commissioner is treating [the Dodgers] and Mr. McCourt unreasonably and vindictively into a side show of all of MLB," Gross wrote.
Amid a flurry of recent court activity -- the Dodgers asking Gross to let them sell their television rights to finance an exit from bankruptcy, and Major League Baseball asking Gross to order the team sold -- the judge said he intended "a prompt disposition of the key issues" so that the Dodgers management could "utilize the approaching off season to prepare for the 2012 season."
The hearing, Gross wrote, would enable him to decide the case based on the facts "rather than the harsh allegations and innuendo of the antagonists."
At issue at the hearing, according to Gross' ruling:
1. Have the Dodgers violated MLB rules and, if so, how materially?
2. Has McCourt misused the Dodgers' assets, and is the team "financially unstable"?
3. What is the condition of the Dodgers now, including the team, the ballpark and stadium security?
4. Is a sale of the Dodgers' television rights now in the best interest of the team? Of MLB?
5. What would happen if the Dodgers walk away from the current contract with Fox Sports in order to pursue a new television deal? (Fox already has sued to try to stop a new deal.)
6. Can the Dodgers live up to MLB rules?
7. Is McCourt acting in his best interests, or at the expense of the best interests of the Dodgers?
8. Has Selig acted in bad faith toward McCourt and/or the Dodgers?
However, Gross ruled that he would not permit the Dodgers to obtain the financial records of any other club, which could have put Selig and other owners in an embarrassing light but could have provided key evidence to back up McCourt's long-stated contentions that the commissioner has treated him differently than other financially troubled clubs -- the New York Mets and Florida Marlins, for instance -- as a pretext toward pushing the Dodgers toward a sale.
"This hearing is not a referendum on the Commissioner or other baseball teams," Gross wrote. "The Court will not permit [the Dodgers] to take discovery into or of other baseball clubs. These cases are about the Dodgers."
Gross also wrote that he might consider appointing a trustee to run the Dodgers, which could strip McCourt of control of the club even before a potential ownership change. MLB has asked that the Dodgers' attorneys be disqualified on grounds they cannot simultaneously represent the interests of McCourt and the interests of the Dodgers.
"If the Commissioner is correct that the bankruptcy case is a subterfuge to benefit Mr. McCourt, the Court will strongly consider the appointment of a Chapter 11 trustee," Gross wrote.
-- Bill Shaikin
Photo: Frank McCourt. Credit: Jason Redmond / Associated Press.