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Frank McCourt's attorneys prepare for closing arguments in divorce trial

September 29, 2010 |  1:30 pm

The insinuation that Frank McCourt defrauded his soon-to-be-ex-wife did not satisfy the judge.

As the attorney for Jamie McCourt approached the end of his closing argument Tuesday in the couple's divorce trial, he suggested Frank might have arranged to have a document switched after the fact, so as to deprive Jamie of any ownership interest in the Dodgers.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Scott Gordon, who will decide whether to uphold an agreement that would make Frank the sole owner of the team, interrupted the attorney, Dennis Wasser.

“Your theory is that Mr. McCourt told him to make the switch?” Gordon asked.

The reference was to Larry Silverstein, the Boston attorney who drafted the 2004 agreement and testified to making the switch, but solely to correct a mistake.

“He was acting as his agent, whether it was express or implied,” Wasser said. “He wasn’t doing the switch for Jamie.”

The divorce trial concludes Wednesday afternoon, when two attorneys representing Frank will deliver the closing argument on his behalf.

Wasser was more direct in challenging the testimony of Frank and of Silverstein, repeatedly using the term “reverse engineering” in describing how he said the two men changed their story over the 11 months since the McCourts filed for divorce, so as to fit evidence as it emerged.

Wasser specifically used the word “fraud” to describe what he says was Frank’s conduct after a 2008 meeting in which the McCourts learned that the now-disputed agreement meant that the Dodgers would be Frank’s sole property upon divorce, rather than shared property, as Jamie said they had intended.

At that point, Wasser said, Frank realized he might have a trump card. If the McCourts were to divorce and the agreement were to be thrown out, Frank would get half the Dodgers anyway. But  Wasser suggested Frank decided not to redo the agreement because he realized he might have all but won the lottery, with sole control of a team worth close to a billion dollars.

"He said to himself, 'Why not take a shot?' " Wasser said.

Jamie has asked Gordon to throw out the agreement, because the existence of two versions — one that says Frank owns the team and another that says the couple share ownership — essentially shows there is no agreement.

Frank contends the version that says he owns the Dodgers should be upheld, that it reflects Jamie’s insistence that the couple’s homes not to be exposed to business risk and that the other version simply reflected an incorrect draft.

But Wasser said that version cannot be upheld because it did not reflect the McCourts' interest in keeping the division of property they had before they moved to California, because Silverstein never disclosed he represented Frank alone on the Dodgers’ acquisition; because Silverstein did not insist that the McCourts each get their own attorney; and because neither Silverstein nor his associates knew enough about California law to draft the agreement in the way the McCourts desired.

Frank’s attorneys have disparaged Jamie’s contention that she neither read nor understood the agreement, citing her credentials as an attorney and her practice of family law in Massachusetts, albeit decades ago.

Wasser said Jamie did not understand California law and relied on Silverstein. He said her legal background was not relevant.

“How is it not relevant?” Gordon said.

In reviewing the law applicable to this case, Wasser cited another case involving a post-marital agreement — one that was upheld — in which the parties paid their attorneys more than $100,000 to prepare the document.

Silverstein charged the McCourts “less than $10,000” to prepare this agreement, Wasser said. The total attorney fees in the McCourt trial are expected to exceed $20 million.

-- Bill Shaikin at L.A. Superior Court