Tuesday, November 25, 2014
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Take Me Out To Divorce Court

“Beds is having a hard time letting go of the baseball season this year.”

by Justice William W. Bedsworth

Ordinarily, when we reach this time of year, baseball is off the radar screen. The World Series is over, the Rally Monkey’s gone back into hibernation, and we are busy being grateful we have hockey, football, basketball, quoits – lots of other stuff to fill the toy section of life’s department store.

But the big news in my sports pages these days is Frank and Jamie McCourt’s divorce. Divorce generally draws about as much notice as nitrogen in the atmosphere down here, but this one is different. The McCourts own the Los Angeles Dodgers.

This changes it from a plain vanilla celebrity dissolution matter to a mocha-chocolate-chip-raspberry-swirl-butterscotch high stakes poker game in which the Holy Grail and the Ark of the Covenant have been tossed into the pot. And as if the stakes weren’t enough to get our attention, the parties are proceeding like it was a steel cage death match. Whoever got the choice of weapons in this duel took chainsaws at six inches.

The McCourts seem to have set out to prove once again the accuracy of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s observation that the very rich are different from you and me. While you and I might slink off into a corner and lament the failure of a lifetime vow, the McCourts are treating it like a national championship game – with bragging rights and a billion dollar trophy.

Before I begin to express my utter bewilderment over this thing, let me make an effort at full disclosure. I am married to a McCourt. Not one of THE McCourts – in fact, much to my chagrin, not one of ANY of the rich McCourts.

There seem to be a ton of rich McCourts. Frank and Jamie own the Dodgers. Another Frank McCourt and his brother Malachy wrote a bunch of best-selling books. David McCourt’s a big venture capitalist on the east coast. Rich McCourts seem to be thick on the ground everywhere but my neighborhood.

I married onto one of the less-well-leafed branches of the McCourt family tree. My wife has no easily locatable wealthy relatives. Quite the opposite in fact: Her father, who was once Chief Assistant County Counsel here, turned down Orange County’s offer of a $10,000 raise in 1985 because it came with strings he felt threatened his integrity. These are clearly people not cut out for wealth.(1)

We keep waiting for that phone call from the lawyer who has determined we are the last surviving relatives of Scrooge McDuck McCourt, but it’s beginning to look like we’re gonna have to get by on our wits alone, which is a pretty daunting prospect.

But not as daunting as the apocalypse lying before Frank, Jamie, and the Los Angeles Dodgers of Los Angeles.(2)

Frank McCourt, a parking lot mogul from Boston,(3) bought the Dodgers in 2004 and installed his wife Jamie,(4) as CEO with a salary of $2 million a year. I don’t know if this salary is appropriate for the position. I’m not aware of any other “CEO with benefits” positions to compare it to.

In the five years Jamie has run the club, the value of the franchise has gone from the $430 million for which the McCourts bought it from Fox Entertainment,(5) to the $722 million value Forbes Magazine put on it a year ago.(6)

So imagine her surprise when she received a “Dear Jamie” letter from her husband – and boss:

“Dear Jamie, This is to inform you that your employment with and positions as Chief Executive Officer and Vice Chairperson of Los Angeles Dodgers LLC, as well as any and all of the positions that you hold . . . are hereby terminated effective immediately.

“Because your employment is held at-will, the Organization is not required to have cause to terminate your employment and may do so for any reason or no reason at all.

“However, your actions, including, but not limited to, your insubordination, non-responsiveness, failure to follow procedures, and inappropriate behavior with regard to a direct subordinate, have made this decision necessary.

“Have a nice day. Kisses! Your snooky-ooky snuggle-uggle-ums, Frank.”

Okay, I made that last part up.

But if I were Frank McCourt, the letter would have included a lot more “snooky-ooky snuggle-uggle-ums” and a lot less “at wills” and “heretofores” and “effective immediatelys.” I know there is no handbook for firing one’s wife, but I don’t think you need an owner’s manual to know you shouldn’t be trying to run the hot tub on jet fuel.

I mean, Frank . . . Buddy . . . you aren’t firing the gardener here. You’re firing your wife. This is a suicide mission of Light Brigade proportion.

What’s more, your wife goes pretty well-armed. She’s got more degrees than a Baghdad thermometer. And they come from some pretty fine institutions of learning. Those initials MIT, Frank . . . they do not stand for Montana Institute of Tart-Baking. This woman is not likely to go gently into the good night of divorce court.

And sure enough, she’s lawyered up with a guy whose client list includes Tom Cruise, Stevie Wonder, Jane Fonda and billionaires Ron Burkle and Kirk Kerkorian. I have no idea what kind of lawyer the guy is, but his experience with numbers that include many zeroes is unrivaled this side of NASA. And this case will involve a LOT of zeroes.

Jamie says she wants $320,967 a month spousal support if she is reinstated and $487,634 a month if she isn’t. She needs this much monthly because her expenses are estimated to be $488,988 a month.(7)

You begin now to understand my reference to F. Scott Fitzgerald, don’t you?

Tell you what you do. You sit down with a pencil and paper and start figuring out what you would DO with $488,988 a month.

My mortgage is about 3K a month. So I started my computation by positing a house 67 times as nice as my own. That got me to $200,000.

If I spent a thousand dollars at every meal every day and never skipped one, it would take up another 90K.(8) And if I bought a new pair of boots, a new pair of jeans, and a new Hawaiian shirt every day, I could probably get my clothing budget up to 30K a month. And if I flew to a different ballgame or concerts every weekend and sat in the front row, I guess I could kill another $50K.

But that’s only $370K. After that, my imagination starts burning oil. You try to get me to $500,000 a month, I’m gonna throw a rod, sure as hell. That’s why it’s good to have a spirit guide, a lawyer with more than passing experience guiding folks through The Land of Many Zeroes.

In fact, I guess you’re gonna need several spirit guides for this trip. I mean, we got both a divorce case and an employment law case here. You win one and get fried in the other, it’s a Pyrrhic victory, so you need more than just Travis, Crockett and Bowie. The army thing worked out better at the Alamo and it will work out better here.

And both sides are filling out legal rosters that figure to be both bigger and more costly than the Dodgers’ Albuquerque farm club. They’re gonna have more mules than the Boraxo team.

And if you think the Death Valley metaphor is overblown, consider Frank’s Los Alamos-like response to Jamie’s divorce papers. Ignore for the moment the fact that he has to be the first man in the 21st century to have the chutzpah to list insubordination as one of his wife’s failings. Other than making your pants clang when you walk, huevos like that are really just historical footnotes.

What matters here is that Frank has gone straight to the nuclear option: He played the infidelity card. Frank says Jamie went to Israel on company businessv(9) and then flitted off to France for 2 1/2 weeks with her driver. On the company tab. That should ramp up the temperature of the conflict.

Jamie admits the driver’s duties involve lubricating more than the car but says that is a recent development. She denies there was any hanky panky in Israel or France.

Not sure what her position is on who paid for France. Allocating expenses must get kinda tricky when you own the business, work for it, and are married to the other owner. My college accounting class didn’t go that far; I suspect you need to go someplace like Sloan School of Management for computations that complex.

On the other hand, Frank denies she owns half the club. He says they signed an agreement in 2004 that gave him the ballclub and her all their other assets. She admits signing the agreement, but says it doesn’t count. Apparently, it was designed merely to insulate their assets – just a way of keeping the creditors from getting to the good stuff if her husband’s goofy ballclub idea went belly-up.(10)

I wish I could provide more enlightenment on this aspect of the case, but contracts that don’t count weren’t really well covered at my law school. Jamie’s University of Maryland School of Law training in this area would give her a huge advantage if Frank hadn’t already retained Arthur Linton Corbin, Samuel Williston and Roger Traynor to explain it to him.(11)

So, to recap, two titans of industry are going to roll around in the mud for months – years if we can find a way to work a couple of writs in – trying to determine whether Jamie can divorce Frank, whether Frank can fire Jamie, who gets how much of the billions, whether the manager should be fired, when the driver’s job description changed, and who gets custody of Manny Ramirez.

As you can tell, I don’t have the slightest idea who should win this conflagration. I don’t even care. A rooting interest is not necessary to the enjoyment of a good fireworks show.

But even without knowing anything about the merits, I can tell you this: Couple more franchises like this and baseball can – once and for all – silence those critics who find it dull.

BEDS NOTES
(1) He and Ron Butler, our Public Defender, were the only ones to get hung up on the ethics of their raises. Just my luck: I had to fall in love with his daughter rather than Donald Trump’s.
(2) So denominated to distinguish them from their rivals to the south, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Baseball is more complicated than a lot of people realize.
(3) A phrase never uttered in the entire history of the English language until Frank McCourt came along.
(4) That would be Jamie McCourt (B.A., Georgetown (where she met Frank); J.D., University of Maryland; MBA, Sloan School of Management (MIT)).
(5) This was back in the days when Fox was doing entertainment as entertainment, rather than as news.
(6) Or the $800 million Jamie’s divorce filing says it’s worth. But, hey, $722 million, $800 million, why quibble over pocket change?
(7) I don’t understand the $1354 discrepancy either. Apparently she plans on making up the difference waitressing or something.
(8) For a half a mil a month, you can be a pretty generous tipper.
(9) Personally, I think the Dodgers would be well-advised to send more people to the Dominican Republic and Venezuela and fewer to Israel, but hey . . . they had one Hall of Fame Jewish left-hander, maybe they can find another.
(10) The origin of the team name was a reference to Brooklyn trolleys. New Yorkers disparagingly referred to Brooklynites as “trolley-dodgers.” Since coming to Los Angeles, they seem to have become the “creditor-dodgers,” but I don’t think they’ll need to change the logo.
(11) Yeah, I know they’re all dead. So was Andruw Jones, and the Dodgers gave him $36 million for two years.

 
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