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Witness: Jamie McCourt expressed early concern that Dodgers were risky investment

September 27, 2010 |  1:30 pm

It is one of the cardinal rules in law: Do not ask a witness a question to which you do not know the answer. Jamie McCourt’s team appeared to run afoul of that rule Monday.

In the divorce trial between Jamie and her estranged husband, Frank, her lawyers have repeatedly said Jamie did not consider the purchase of the Dodgers a particularly risky proposition, a point her side tried to establish again Monday during cross-examination of the Dodgers’ chief financial officer, Peter Wilhelm.

“Did you ever hear Jamie McCourt say, ‘Don’t make the deal, Frank?’ ” asked James Fox Miller, an attorney for Jamie.

“Yes,” Wilhelm said.

Jamie has asked the court to invalidate an agreement that Frank says gives him sole control of the Dodgers. Frank says Jamie should not get any part of ownership now because she did not want any part of ownership when the couple acquired the Dodgers in 2004, preferring to keep business assets in his name so creditors could not touch the couple’s homes, which were in her name.

Wilhelm said that conversation occurred in late 2003. Dennis Wasser, another attorney for Jamie, said that conversation would not be relevant since the McCourts didn’t acquire the Dodgers until the following year.

“They did decide to go ahead with the deal,” Wasser said outside the courtroom. “It wasn’t just Frank committing the assets. It was both of them.

“Jamie was the head of the acquisition team. Do you think that, if Jamie had opposed the deal, it would have gone through?”

Perhaps the highlight of the morning session was when someone actually mentioned the fans. It wasn't the McCourts or their attorneys. Rather, it was Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Scott Gordon after Wilhelm was asked a question about how “appropriate” the risk was in the Dodgers acquisition.

“I’m not sure what that means,” Gordon interrupted. “For the gentleman [Wilhelm], for Mr. McCourt, for Mrs. McCourt, for fans, for who?”

Wilhelm testified that a “Herculean effort” was needed to turn around a Dodgers team that had suffered massive financial losses under Fox ownership — $35 million in 2000, $54 million in '01, $55 million in '02 and, at the time of purchase negotiations, a projected $53 million in ’03.

Robert Leib, a consultant who worked with the McCourts on the deal, testified earlier Monday that the Dodgers had sold just 11 of 36 luxury suites under Fox. In addition to the difficulty in selling premium seating, Wilhelm said, the risks involved turning Dodger Stadium concessions over to a company that never had handled general ballpark concessions, taking merchandise sales in-house and implementing a ticket price increase set by Fox while cutting the player payroll. In that 2004 season — the first under McCourt management — the Dodgers won their first National League West championship in nine years and earned their first playoff berth in eight.

Wilhelm acknowledged that some of his projections — ones that he said Jamie sometimes called aggressive — turned out to be conservative.

Wilhelm had projected increases of $1.9 million in concession and parking revenue for the 2004 season; the actual increase was $6 million.

-- Bill Shaikin at Los Angeles Superior Court