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McCourts face off in divorce court over ownership of the L.A. Dodgers [Updated]

August 30, 2010 | 11:11 am

A lawyer for Jamie McCourt set the tone Monday when he opened court proceedings in her divorce from Frank McCourt by quoting Sir Walter Scott: "Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive."

At issue is ownership of the Los Angeles Dodgers, which the McCourts took over in 2004, when the baseball organization announced "Frank and Jamie McCourt were confirmed as the fourth owners of the Los Angeles Dodgers..." 

The question is does he own the team or do they own it jointly? Frank McCourt wants the court to enforce a post-marital agreement -- signed in 2004 by both spouses -- that says he is the sole owner of the team and that she is the sole owner of the couple's homes. But Jamie argues that the agreement should be thrown out.

There are two different versions of the agreement that the McCourts signed dividing their properties.

Everyone agreed there was a switch of crucial documents outlining who owned what, said Jamie McCourt's attorney, Dennis Wasser. But was it a "clerical error," as Frank McCourt's lawyers maintain, or deception, as Wasser argued?

[Updated at 12:45 p.m.: Steve Susman, Frank McCourt's attorney, argued Monday that Jamie McCourt would like to be "the first divorce lawyer to claim she didn't understand her own postnuptial agreement."  

He mocked that argument in his opening statement, repeatedly citing Jamie McCourt's credentials as an MBA graduate from MIT, a business executive and an attorney who once practiced family law.

Susman also repeated that the agreement in question was her idea, that she insisted she did not want to own any part of the Dodgers so she would not risk losing a "nest egg" worth about $80 million should Frank McCourt fail to reverse the Dodgers' financial losses.

"She didn't trust Frank's business judgment," Susman said.

He added: "Frank was willing to put his entire fortune on the line for the Dodgers. Jamie was not willing to risk anything."

Susman dismissed as "desperation" the contention by Jamie McCourt's lawyers that Frank McCourt had pulled a "fraudulent switcheroo" because three of the six copies of the agreement included the Dodgers as community property. The agreement was subsequently changed to specify the Dodgers were Frank's property.

"Jamie is seeking to twist a simple drafting error into some massive fraud," Susman said.

Susman said he would put on six witnesses that could each testify being told by Jamie that she wanted no part of the Dodgers. Susman said Jamie McCourt had "put not a penny of cash in" the $421-million deal to buy the Dodgers and said she had wondered aloud how her husband, who had never run a baseball team, could make money from the Dodgers when Rupert Murdoch could not. (Frank McCourt bought the Dodgers from Murdoch's News Corp.)

"Frank could have been upside-down in a second," Susman said. "He believed in himself and the Dodgers. Jamie McCourt wanted total and complete immunity from the downside risk. When you don't share in the risk, you don't share in the upside."

Susman urged the court to uphold the agreement rather than countenance the notion of a "highly educated, wealthy divorce lawyer keeping themselves from being bound by the terms of an agreement they themselves proposed and signed."

Susman also noted Jamie McCourt had expressed concern about the risk should Frank McCourt had succeeded in previous pursuits to buy the Boston Red Sox and the Angels. He lost in bidding for the Red Sox and, according to Susman, the Angels bid "became moot because Frank was late to the negotiating table."]

-- Carla Hall and Bill Shaikin at L.A. County Superior Court in downtown L.A.

Photo: Jamie McCourt arrives at the downtown L.A. courthouse Monday. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times