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July 14, 2010 6:18 PM

Could Document Unearthed in Bingham Vault Decide Dodger Drama?

Posted by Brian Baxter

UPDATE: July 15, 7:00 p.m. The Los Angeles Times reports that a U.S. bankruptcy judge presiding over the McCourts divorce case could order that the Los Angeles Dodgers be sold.

Am Law Daily readers know we've been covering the nasty divorce battle between real estate investor and Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt and his wife Jamie, who is fighting him for control of the Major League Baseball team. Now a seven-page document discovered in a vault at Bingham McCutchen could determine the Dodgers's future owner.

ESPN.com reports that two forensic scientists--one representing each side--have determined that the document at issue, a marital property agreement, has not been tampered with. But not surprisingly, the multitude of lawyers representing both McCourts disagree on what the document means.

As previously noted by The Am Law Daily, Frank McCourt has retained Susman Godfrey's Stephen Susman and Marc Seltzer and famed divorce-lawyer-to-the-stars Sorrell Trope, while his estranged wife has lined up David Boies from Boies, Schiller & Flexner, divorce lawyer Dennis Wasser, and Santa Monica firm Kinsella Weitzman Iser Kump & Aldisert. (Noted entertainment lawyer Bertram Fields from L.A.'s Greenberg Glusker Fields Claman & Machtinger is also serving as an adviser to Jamie McCourt's legal team.)

Also involved is Bingham. Marshall Grossman, a prominent litigator in the firm's L.A. office, is representing the Dodgers organization along with Debra Fischer, the deputy chair of the firm's litigation practice. The firm, which was brought in by Frank McCourt at the onset of his divorce troubles late last year, also happens to have been the real estate investor's estate-planning counsel when it put together a critical postnuptial marital property agreement between the McCourts in 2004.

According to ESPN, which has a feature story on the unfolding McCourt divorce case in the next issue of its biweekly magazine, schedules attached to the property agreement dividing the McCourts's assets could determine who owns the Dodgers. Susman Godfrey claims that with the document found to be authentic--the two forensic scientists determined it had its original staple from 2004 and that a signature by Jamie McCourt was determined to exist on the same page with Frank's name listing him as the team's sole owner--that makes an upcoming August 30 divorce trial date with the Dodgers's ownership at stake almost moot.

"We've got the staple and her signature on something she claims she never signed, [w]hich proves all along she was not telling the truth," Susman Godfrey's Stephen Susman told ESPN. "This is a great day for Frank McCourt in his quest to show that he alone is and always has been the sole owner of the Dodgers. His wife has been accusing him of fraud, and this day brought vindication."

But Jamie McCourt's lawyers aren't giving up that easily. ESPN reports that they claim Bingham trusts and estates and real estate partner Lawrence Silverstein, who drafted the marital property agreement and went over it with Jamie McCourt, might have used another version that wasn't signed by Frank McCourt.

Up to six different copies of the agreement exist, Jamie McCourt's lawyers say, and Boies told ESPN that his client is the victim of a "switcheroo," whereby Silverstein and Bingham removed the schedules attached to the signature page and replaced them with new pages listing Frank McCourt as the sole owner of the Dodgers.

Forbes valued the team last year at $722 million, almost $300 million more than McCourt paid for the franchise in January 2004. Bingham has been counsel to the team since Frank McCourt took over that year. The firm's merger with L.A.'s Riordan & McKenzie in 2003 was perfectly timed to allow it to play a key role advising on the Dodgers deal. The firm also advised Frank McCourt on a subsequent $250 million real estate deal for land surrounding Dodger Stadium.

A call to the team's lawyer, Bingham's Grossman, was not returned by the time of this post. (Grossman himself joined the firm in May 2007 when he merged his 40-lawyer L.A. shop Alschuler Grossman with Bingham.)

Susman Godfrey's Seltzer, who is assisting Stephen Susman in the case by advising Frank McCourt, also did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

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