Dodger divorce

Today's Los Angeles Times has more news on the saga that has become the McCourt divorce trial. Frank wants an early trial in February, claiming that the organization's current limbo has been a distraction for Dodgers management and that Jamie McCourt's claims to co-ownership could continue "to damage the Dodgers."

(UPDATE: The court set May 24 as the start date for the trial )

This has already played itself out in baseball operations, as ESPN's Buster Olney reports the team is essentially "frozen in action" and other executives and agents are assuming the organization is "locked down." During an offseason in which the Dodgers are one or two good starting pitchers away from being favorites in the National League, the Dodgers weren't on the radar for free agent John Lackey, and were unable to be a player in the Cliff Lee-Roy Halladay trade. The team's uncertain situation might have also led to the ill-advised decision not to offer Randy Wolf arbitration.

In the meantime, the news has also focused on Jamie McCourt's lover Jeff Fuller, who purported to represent the Dodgers in a meeting with a legislator from Taiwan, where the team is negotiating to play an exhibition game this spring. The Dodgers are considering legal action over the trip, and MLB has already sent Frank McCourt a stern letter about the incident.

Why Jeff Fuller flew out to Taiwan to con an unsuspecting legislator is beyond anyone's guess. Fuller's involvement with Jamie and the Dodgers is bizarre, to say the least. Fuller, up until October, was the Dodgers' "Director of Protocol," which apparently means he was Jamie McCourt's driver. Fuller is also the heir to the Pillsbury Doughboy fortune, so one would assume that his role is "not about the money."

In 1995, Fuller was accused of brutalizing his wife when she was 7 months pregnant. She filed a restraining order against him and the couple subsequently divorced. A few weeks ago, Jamie told TJ Simers that she's "out of practice" when it comes to dating, and given her dalliance with the younger Fuller, that certainly seems to be the case.

As far as I know, Jamie McCourt is the only owner in MLB who has openly admitted an affair with an employee. If Jamie really hopes to wrest control of the team away from husband, it seems questionable that MLB owners would approve a transfer of power to someone who sleeps with subordinates.

With a trial on the horizon, many Dodger fans are wondering who will wind up controlling the team. Frank McCourt has already joined with the organization in court documents to argue that Jamie was negligent in her job as chief executive of the team. Team president Dennis Mannion wrote that Jamie "exhibited an almost disdainful disregard for the fundamental requirements of her job and workplace etiquette."

Statements to this effect have been murmured within baseball circles for years. Jamie McCourt has not been reliable in executing the responsibilities of her job, has not always showed up for work and has used the team as a vehicle for self-promotion. She is known to be largely responsible for many of the team's off-the-field gaffes, and her comments in the press continue to be received as strange and delusional.

In regards to the ownership question, Frank claims that Jamie signed an agreement making him the sole owner of the team. Jamie claims to have been duped into signing, saying, "I signed the document because I trusted my husband of 25 years."

For those who don't know, Jamie McCourt holds a law degree from the University of Maryland and practiced law for 15 years in New York and Boston. One of her specialties is family law. She was also general counsel of Frank's Boston real estate company for 10 years. Additionally, she has an MBA from MIT's Sloan School of Management and an undergraduate degree from Georgetown.

Her plea of ignorance - an insult to her own intelligence - doesn't hold up. Jamie also reportedly acknowledged Frank's sole ownership of the team by signing a statement for MLB before the 2009 season, and reportedly made the agreement because the Dodgers had lost money in the early-middle part of the decade and she did not want further exposure to the highly leveraged team.

However, the Dodgers are now a profitable team, and the value of the team has increased from $430 million when the couple bought the team in 2004 to an estimated $800 million today. So, naturally, Jamie wants in on the action.

Does Jamie have a case? Should she be a part-owner of the team? The general sentiment among legal experts has been that despite the agreement, California's community property laws are so strong that the team will likely be split equally between the couple.

The court will likely give both parties the opportunity to buy out each other. If neither McCourt is able to do this, then they will be mutually forced to sell. Jamie claims to have enough investors to buy out Frank, but I'm not sure why anyone would want to join with her when they might have the resources to buy the team themselves (maybe it's Pillsbury money?). One possible circumstance is if Jamie agrees to be a minority owner, a new investor would not need to put up as much capital. The new owner could give a figurehead title to Jamie, and then she could continue her community work and stick it to her husband.

Still, no matter what the court says, MLB will have to approve a sale. I'm not sure if MLB will want Jamie to own the team in light of her affair with an employee. And of course it's also still possible that the court could rule the entire team is Frank's because of the signed agreement.

But the most likely scenario, according to baseball sources, is that the McCourts will drag Dodger fans through an ugly divorce, leaving the team in purgatory until they are both forced to sell. There will likely be many interested buyers, and baseball will be more than happy to move past the McCourts.


More by Phil Wallace:
USC fires Lane Kiffin
Hollywood Park back in the picture
HBO's Real Sports highlights Chivas USA's troubles
Don't get too excited about the Lakers' cap space
How Jim Buss ruined the Lakers
Previous Native Intelligence story: A talk with Susan Narduli, Architect/Artist

Next Native Intelligence story: Dodger/Angel offseason report

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