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Frank McCourt says wife could not own Dodgers and retain homes [Updated]

September 2, 2010 |  3:12 pm

Mccourts Frank McCourt said in court Thursday that one of the remarks his wife made to him most often during a nearly 30-year marriage was: “You can make a billion. You can lose a billion. I don’t care. I just want my own nest egg.”

Jamie McCourt's attorney, David Boies, ended his cross-examination of Frank McCourt on Thursday morning, and McCourt's attorney wasted no time eliciting testimony from his client to counter potentially damaging statements made under cross-examination.

Jamie McCourt is expected to take the witness stand Friday in their divorce trial, which centers on who owns the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Near the end of his cross-examination, Frank McCourt acknowledged he had first contemplated divorce in March 2008, more than a year before the couple separated. He said he never told Jamie he had contemplated divorce until “very close to the time we decided to get divorced.”

Under questioning from Frank McCourt's attorney, Steve Susman, McCourt tied the March 2008 date to a meeting that month in which Jamie McCourt objected to his assertion he could pass ownership of the Dodgers to the couple’s four sons without approval from Jamie.

Leah Bishop, an estate planning attorney working with the McCourts, said at the time the now-disputed marital property agreement — the one Frank McCourt says grants him sole ownership of the Dodgers -- might not stand up in the event of divorce.

“That was the first time the D-word had been used in a sort of uncomfortable or threatening way,” Frank McCourt said. “That was the first time I thought Mrs. McCourt was contemplating divorce.... To me, you don’t challenge the agreement and stay married.”

Frank McCourt testified Tuesday he “was not looking for something in return” in signing an agreement both sides agree was designed to protect the couple’s homes from business creditors.

“That’s our whole case,” Dennis Wasser, an attorney for Jamie McCourt, said Tuesday.

Jamie McCourt is seeking to have the agreement invalidated by the court. Frank McCourt maintains the agreement was negotiated at her insistence.

McCourt testified it was his understanding of California law that Jamie McCourt could not be a co-owner of the Dodgers and yet retain the homes should the Dodgers falter.

“You couldn’t have the creditor protection Mrs. McCourt was seeking … and not have [the Dodgers] be separate property in California,” Frank McCourt said. “There was no quid pro quo for me to ask for.”

Jamie McCourt has claimed she never fully read or understood the agreement. Frank McCourt testified the attorney who drafted the agreement, Larry Silverstein, had reviewed its meaning with the McCourts “paragraph by paragraph” on the day they signed it.

Susman has said Frank McCourt had put “not a penny” of cash into his $430-million purchase of the Dodgers.

[Updated at 2:31 p.m.: As part of the deal, Fox Entertainment Group agreed to give Frank two years to sell his Boston parking lot property.

Frank testified that Fox had commissioned an appraisal of the property that valued it from $165 million as a liquidated asset to $465 million if the property was optimally developed.

Frank never did sell the property -- Fox took it over and canceled the $203 million he owed the company, he said -- and Fox sold the property for between $205 million and $210 million.]

In the midst of a slow day of testimony, Susman once referred to “Larry Bishop.”

Judge Scott Gordon interrupted, asking whether Susman meant to refer to Leah Bishop or Larry Silverstein.

“This trial is already too long,” Susman said.]

[Updated at 2:26 p.m.: Frank McCourt testified Thursday that a news release identifying himself and his wife as owners of the Dodgers was meant to emphasize that family ownership had returned to the team after six years under the corporate stewardship of Fox Entertainment Group.

The release was issued when the McCourts took over the Dodgers in 2004.

Frank said the release in no way indicated he considered his now-estranged wife, Jamie McCourt, as the legal co-owner she has asked the court to rule that she is.

"That was really to harken back to the O'Malley days," Frank testified. "It was a nicer, more comfortable, warmer way to refer to ownership."

Under cross-examination Wednesday, Frank testified he had "put off" for nine months the attorney who had repeatedly wondered why he had not signed the document that would have made the Dodgers community property, as Jamie had asked.

On Thursday, he was asked on direct examination why he had not just said no right away.

"I love my wife," he said. "It's as simple as that. She was trying very hard to convince me to sign the documents. She had basically put the marriage on the line."]

-- Bill Shaikin at Los Angeles County Superior Court

Photos: (left) Frank McCourt. Credit: Nick Ut / Associated Press

Jamie McCourt. Credit: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times