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September 22, 2010 1:04 PM

Bingham Partner Admits to Altering Document at Heart of McCourt Divorce

Posted by David Bario

More than just the future ownership of the Los Angeles Dodgers is at stake in the extraordinarily nasty divorce of Frank and Jamie McCourt: The reputation of a respected partner at an Am Law 100 firm is on the line too. As we've reported, the couple's former lawyer, Bingham McCutchen partner Lawrence Silverstein, has come under heavy fire over allegations that he "fraudulently altered" the 2004 marital property agreement at the center of the dispute. 

Jamie McCourt's legal team, headed by David Boies of Boies, Schiller & Flexner, accuses Silverstein of purposefully altering the property document after the McCourts signed it to make the Dodgers Frank's separate property.

In court papers, Frank McCourt's lawyers, led by Stephen Susman of Susman Godfrey, acknowledge that Silverstein made a change to the agreement without alerting either of the McCourts. But Susman calls the change a "drafting error" and denies that Silverstein's aim was to surreptitiously strip Jamie of her rights to the baseball team.

On Tuesday, as trial in the case continued in state superior court in downtown L.A., Silverstein addressed the allegations on the stand for the first time. And, as this account from the Los Angeles Times makes clear, Boies didn't go easy on the Bingham partner. 

"In all of your experience," Boies asked, "have you ever known a situation in which a lawyer, after a document has been signed and notarized, has removed a schedule and substituted another without the express written permission of the parties to that agreement?"

"Express permission or implicit permission, no," Silverstein answered.

Boies asked Silverstein whether he had had an "absolute ethical obligation" to alert Jamie McCourt of the change.

"No, I did not," answered Silverstein, who admitted to changing the word "exclusive" to "inclusive" on the agreement to indicate that the Dodgers were Frank McCourt's property alone.

As we've previously reported, Bingham and Frank McCourt's lawyers contend that Silverstein was simply correcting an error when he made the change in March of 2004. They claim Jamie understood that the documents she signed were meant to preserve ownership of the team for her husband. When Jamie McCourt's lawyers first accused Silverstein, Bingham partner Marshall Grossman told the The Am Law Litigation Daily it was a "contrived" attempt to use fraud charges as a litigation tactic, calling the accusations "despicable."

Judging from the Times's blog report of the scene outside the courtroom following Tuesday's testimony, Frank McCourt's lawyers know Silverstein's actions don't exactly help their case. "We have conceded from the beginning that he should have picked up the phone and called his clients and said, 'I made a mistake,'" Steve Susman told reporters. Susman partner Victoria Cook meanwhile assured reporters that Silverstein wasn't "haunted" by what he'd done. 

Silverstein was due to take the stand again on Wednesday, according to The Associated Press, which also reports that the McCourts could be headed back into mediation as soon as Friday. We'll be watching this one closely.

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