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Frank McCourt portrays wife as having an appetite for houses, financial security

September 3, 2010 | 11:39 am

In his fourth day on the stand, Frank McCourt portrayed his wife, Jamie, as a woman with a voracious appetite for houses and financial security. 

At one point, he testified in their divorce trial, "She asked me for a quarter of a billion dollars -- $250 million."

Frank's response: "I told her no. I thought it was ridiculous."

"Was she happy about that?" asked his lawyer, Steve Susman.

"I would say no," McCourt said.

It was all part of Frank McCourt's lawyer's effort to discredit Jamie's contention that the marital property agreement was only a hedge against creditors, not a blueprint for how they would later divide their assets. Her husband's testimony painted a picture of Jamie as a wife using the marital property agreement to aggressively grow her own separate nest egg that, like a mother bird, she fiercely protected from others, namely her husband.

Meanwhile, McCourt portrayed himself as struggling to make his wife happy.

When she first broached the idea of changing their marital property agreement, he told her he would consider it. But when he read a first proposal to keep the houses in her name and make everything else community property, he refused.

"It was absurd," he testified. "It was saying what's mine is mine and what's yours is ours. I thought that was patently unfair."

In an e-mail to Jamie where he suggests they reduce their debt, he said that would be more difficult to do when the debt "is a moving target, i.e. when 4 houses become 8...these are all really big commitments right now financially but I am willing to do it because I want to make you happy." 

His lawyer pointed out that he seemed to rarely challenge his wife, even cracking that one of his e-mail responses to her was "namby pamby."

Frank McCourt said that as they added more houses -- the two on Charing Cross Road in Holmby Hills, the two in Malibu -- she insisted they be included as her separate property. And when he wanted to buy the $24-million Lautner house in Malibu -- "Malibu 1" as it's called in court -- and keep it as his separate property, she balked, he said, insisting it be hers. He acquiesced.

And he paid for her houses, he told the court, taking a $60-million mortgage on his Chavez Ravine property and using two-thirds of it to pay off her homes.

"She lobbied to pay off all the debts on the houses and I did," he testified. "Then she had more homes and more debt and she was lobbying to pay off that."

It boiled down to "a fundamental difference" about how to live, he said. "We had a disagreement about how many houses you need, how much security you need ... how many people you need around you," he testified.

-- Carla Hall