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McCourt divorce: Damaging admission from lawyer who negotiated Dodgers agreement

September 23, 2010 |  2:30 pm

Mccourts Jamie McCourt won a potentially damaging admission Thursday from the lawyer who negotiated the now-disputed agreement at the heart of the McCourt divorce trial underway in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

Larry Silverstein, the Boston attorney who drafted the agreement, has testified that he was simply correcting an innocent mistake when he changed a word after the McCourts had signed the document. By substituting "inclusive" for "exclusive" after the fact, Silverstein categorized the Dodgers as Frank McCourt's separate property instead of as the couple's joint property.

David Boies, the attorney for Jamie McCourt, pointed out to Silverstein a clear error that still exists in the agreement -- two references to "the respective attorneys of the parties." Silverstein represented both of the McCourts in the agreement.

Boies asked Silverstein when he noticed that error.

"It was after they signed," Silverstein said.

The testimony raised the question of why Silverstein would correct what he said was one minor mistake discovered after the fact when he did not correct what he said was another minor mistake after the fact.

"There's no way to reconcile that mistake and not fixing it with his claim [that] the only reason he switched the schedules [that specified who would own the Dodgers] was to fix a mistake," Boies said outside court.

Boies has repeatedly suggested the switch was intentional and that Silverstein "fraudulently altered" documents to deprive Jamie McCourt of her right to a share of the Dodgers.

Victoria Cook, the attorney for Frank McCourt, asked Silverstein under direct examination whether any fraud had been involved.

"Absolutely not," Silverstein said.

Cook referenced a May 1, 2009, e-mail in which Jamie McCourt wrote to Silverstein, "My fault, I guess, for not having read the post-marital document and believing you were preserving the status quo."

Jamie McCourt has argued she believed the disputed agreement preserved her rights to the Dodgers in the event of divorce, in line with the law in the couple's former home of Massachusetts.

Cook elicited testimony that Jamie McCourt had invited Silverstein to meet for drinks on May 14, 2009, at which time she did not follow up on the issues she raised in her e-mail.

"She was talking about her book," Silverstein said. "[She was]) writing a book."

Cook concluded by asking Silverstein about consideration the McCourts gave in 2008 to convert all their assets to community property. Silverstein had informed Jamie McCourt she would need to sign three documents so Major League Baseball could consider approving her as an owner, including an indemnification agreement.

Her response, according to Silverstein: "She said she wasn't going to sign any bleeping MLB forms."

Frank McCourt has testified -- and Silverstein has corroborated -- that Jamie McCourt was the one who pushed for the agreement now in question, intent on keeping the McCourt residences in her name and the McCourt business assets -- including the Dodgers -- in Frank McCourt's name so as to protect the homes from creditors.

The judge in the case appeared to grow increasingly irritated with some of the testimony given by Silverstein and even more irritated when Silverstein's cellphone rang while he was on the witness stand.

Cook asked Silverstein if he had the McCourts' permission to change what he said was a mistake in the agreement after the couple had signed it.

"I believed I did," Silverstein said.

Judge Scott Gordon declared the answer was "non-responsive." When Silverstein tried a similar answer, Gordon decided to do the questioning himself.

The judge pointed to Jamie McCourt and said, "The lady there, sir, did she ever tell you you could change the two pieces of paper?"

"No," Silverstein said.

Gordon pointed to Frank McCourt and said, "The gentleman, sir, did he ever tell you you could change the two pieces of paper?"

"No," Silverstein said.

When Cook asked whether Silverstein thought he should have informed the McCourts of the change, Silverstein said, "In reflection, I wish I had."

Gordon also ruled that the answer was non-responsive. Cook asked Silverstein whether he had made a mistake.

"It was not the best practice," Silverstein said.

"Do you admit it was a mistake?" Cook said.

"I admit it was not the best practice," Silverstein said.

-- Bill Shaikin at Los Angeles County Superior Court

Photos: Frank and Jamie McCourt. Credit: Los Angeles Times