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October 16, 2009 6:45 PM

The Frank McCourt Chronicles: A (Semi) Regular Look at Sports and the Law

Posted by Brian Baxter

The Los Angeles Dodgers are battling the Philadelphia Phillies to represent the National League in this year's World Series, but another kind of playoff could force the sale of the team.

Multiple news sources report that Dodgers owner Frank McCourt and his wife, team CEO Jamie McCourt, have officially separated. The marriage was on the rocks for months, and the looming divorce is said to be acrimonious. (The McCourts no longer live together and have been attending playoff games separately.)

Why does this matter? According to community property laws in California, Jamie McCourt would have a claim to half of her husband's share in the Dodgers and any other assets he owns. A similar situation occurred last year when San Diego Padres owner John Moores and his wife, Becky, went through a contentious separation that prompted the sale of the team.

Frank McCourt has already hired an Am Law All-Star: Bingham McCutchen litigator Marshall Grossman, who made waves this summer with his representation of ESPN sideline reporter Erin Andrews.

Grossman's not commenting on the matter outside of a statement released by the McCourts, but earlier this year Forbes valued the Dodgers at $722 million, the fourth-most valuable franchise in Major League Baseball.

Dennis Wasser of Los Angeles's Wasser, Cooperman & Carter is advising Jamie McCourt.

NHLPA Looking at Dewey's Feher For Leadership

The National Hockey League Players Association's search for a new leader has led to Dewey & LeBoeuf sports and entertainment litigation cochair David Feher, reports ESPN legal analyst Lester Munson.

Last month the NHLPA fired Paul Kelly, a former assistant U.S. attorney and name partner at Boston's Kelly, Libby & Hoopes, after doubts emerged about the executive director's close relationship with league management.

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Feher (right), who declined to comment, is one of the leading sports lawyers in the country. He has served as a lead negotiator for NFL and NBA players in collecting bargaining agreements with their respective leagues and represented other high-profile clients like Curtis Martin and Latrell Sprewell.

Feher also has hockey experience, having advised a union that represents minor league hockey players in negotiations with the NHL.

Feher is one of the principal authors of a brief recently filed in the American Needle case currently before the U.S. Supreme Court that could have ramifications for not only the NFL, but the entire professional sports landscape in the U.S.

Cubbies File For Chapter 11

The Chicago Cubs, everyone's lovable losers, filed for bankruptcy this week but Wrigley denizens need not be alarmed. The move was merely procedural to speed the team's $845 million sale to the Ricketts family.

Sidley Austin's Kenneth Kansa--the firm is bankruptcy counsel to the team's soon-to-be-former owner, the Tribune Company--and partners Norman Pernick and J. Kate Stickles from Delaware's Cole, Schotz, Meisel, Forman & Leonard made the Chapter 11 filing for the Cubbies.

A list of unsecured creditors in the filing did reveal that the team owes $500,000 to former relief pitcher Luis Vizcaino and $47,000 to Latin American scout Jose Serra.

One interesting sentence that also caught our eye was an attachment that reads, "The Debtor does not believe it owns or possesses any real or personal property that poses or is alleged to pose a threat of imminent and identifiable harm to the public health or safety."

Um, Milton Bradley, anyone?

All In On Atlantic Yards

Before Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov and his New Jersey Nets begin playing in Brooklyn, New York's top court must rule on a civil suit seeking to block the multi-billion dollar real estate complex that includes a new arena, offices, stores, and apartments.

Landowners represented by Matthew Brinckerhoff from New York's Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady are suing a state agency using eminent domain to seize land for the Atlantic Yards development. Bryan Cave's Philip Karmel and J. Kevin Healy and New York's Berger & Webb are advising the Empire State Development Corporation, which is seeking to sell the land to developer Bruce Ratner.

Reuters reports that Ratner must begin building an arena for the basketball team before the year's end or he will lose out on $700 million of low-cost, tax-free debt. (Consumer advocates and public officials filed another suit this week seeking to block a related land sale to Ratner.)

The appellate court is expected to rule in December.

Around the Horn

-- Ever since World Wrestling Entertainment was forced to change its name because of an adverse decision in an English court case, we have to think that founder Vince McMahon gets a little testy when it comes to IP matters. Maybe that's why the WWE has tapped long-time outside counsel Jerry McDevitt from K&L Gates--no stranger to wrestling hijinks--to lower the boom on a Philadelphia wine school touting it's "Sommelier Smackdown" competition. The WWE's "SmackDown" program has been on TV for a decade.

-- Between playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers and serving as an executive for the San Francisco 49ers, Paul Martha sandwiched stints working as an attorney at Reed Smith and Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports on Martha's long battle with post-concussion syndrome and alcoholism.

-- The Wall Street Journal reports on a civil suit filed by former Penn State running back Austin Scott, kicked off the school's football team in 2007 after being charged with rape. But the case later fell apart when Scott's accuser chose not to pursue the matter and authorities withdrew the charges. Scott's now suing the Nittany Lions, claiming that the school's decision ruined his chances at a pro career.

-- Rush Limbaugh has been dropped from an ownership group bidding for the St. Louis Rams, and now some legal experts are wondering whether Limbaugh might have grounds for a libel suit. Two controversial quotes attributed to the conservative radio host were added to Limbaugh's Wikipedia page by someone using an IP address at Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler, examiner.com reports. On Thursday, Limbaugh lashed out at current NFLPA executive director and former Patton Boggs partner DeMaurice Smith.

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