The Firms

September 20, 2010 6:42 PM

Dodger Blues: Bingham Takes Center Stage in McCourt Divorce Drama

Posted by Brian Baxter


UPDATE: 9/22/10, 12:15 p.m. Bingham's Lawrence Silverstein took the stand on Tuesday in the McCourt divorce case. It did not go well, according to The Associated Press reports the McCourts have now decided to mediate.

The high-stakes divorce battle between real estate investor Frank McCourt and his wife Jamie over ownership of the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team continued Tuesday as Bingham McCutchen's role in the dispute took its turn in the Hollywood spotlight.

The Los Angeles Times has reported that the losing party in the case could have a potential multimillion-dollar liability claim against the firm over its representation of both McCourts in drafting a marital property agreement (MPA) that could determine the rightful owner of the Dodgers franchise.

The Am Law Daily previously noted the importance of the documents discovered in a vault at Bingham, as well as the allegation that firm tax and estate planning partner Lawrence Silverstein changed the MPA's terms before going over it with both individuals.

The dispute essentially hinges on one word in the MPA, of which there are six copies. Three copies contain the word "inclusive," meaning that the Dodgers are the sole property of Frank McCourt. But another three replace that word with "exclusive," meaning that Jamie McCourt would be considered a co-owner in the team, which would likely force its sale. (Former Dodgers owner Peter O'Malley urged just that last week.)

The Times reports that Silverstein is being asked to explain the disparity in divorce court, where he is scheduled to testify this week. Bingham litigation partner Marshall Grossman continues to represent the Dodgers franchise itself; Frank McCourt--represented by a bevy of legal heavy hitters--has testified that Silverstein should have informed him and his estranged wife of the switch to "inclusive" but that the MPA always made clear the Dodgers were his property alone.

According to court records, Bingham argues that Silverstein caught his error on March 30, 2004, a day before both McCourts signed the final MPA in Boston. The firm claims the McCourts reviewed copies of the MPA in their home. But when Silverstein and Bingham made extra copies of the MPA to be filed in California, where the McCourts were moving after purchasing the team, they contained the word "exclusive" and were signed the following April without the appropriate changes being made.

Those three California documents, which Jamie McCourt has testified she never read because she thought all property with her husband was split 50-50, are the key to her claim to a stake of the Dodgers. But Bingham also argues that Jamie McCourt conferred with Loeb & Loeb tax and estate planning partner Leah Bishop in December 2007 on her goals in signing the original MPAs and Bishop blessed the agreements as giving Jamie McCourt control over the family's residential real estate estate holdings, while Frank McCourt controlled the remaining assets as his separate property. (E-mail's by Bishop to Jamie McCourt and Silverstein have been introduced as evidence in the case.)

While Silverstein was set to testify on Tuesday, there was a chance his appearance in court would be pushed back, given that Jamie McCourt took the stand on Monday after a two-week hiatus in the case. The National Law Journal, a sibling publication, has previously reported that former Bingham partner Reynolds Cafferata, now a name partner at L.A. firm Rodriguez, Horii, Choi & Cafferata, could also be called to testify by Frank McCourt's lawyers.

In other McCourt divorce-related legal news, The New York Times had this profile over the weekend on University of Minnesota Law School student Joshua Fisher, who founded 11 months ago to give the daily play-by-play on the various goings-on in the case. The tech savvy can also catch Fisher here on Twitter, where he posts minute-by-minute updates on court proceedings.


Photo: Getty Images

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