LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A judge ruled on Tuesday that the Los Angeles Dodgers are in effect jointly owned by newly-divorced couple Frank and Jamie McCourt, setting the stage for further wrangling over the storied baseball team.
Lawyers for Frank McCourt immediately disputed the ruling, asserting he remains sole owner of the National League franchise, that his former spouse has no right to the club and that their legal battle would continue.
“For Frank, today’s decision means more time at the courthouse,” his lawyer, Marc Seltzer, said in a statement. “Nothing changes in terms of the ownership, management, control or the day-to-day business operation of the Dodgers. That’s all firmly in Frank McCourt’s hands.”
Sports industry analysts said the decision, if upheld, increases the likelihood the Dodgers will be sold because neither of the McCourts is believed to have enough cash to buy out the other.
Capping more than a year of the McCourts’ public marital discord and uncertainty over the Dodgers’ future, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Scott Gordon tossed out a 2004 post-nuptial agreement that Frank McCourt contended gave him full control over the team.
Gordon’s 100-page ruling in effect means the Dodgers, valued by Forbes magazine in April at $727 million, stands as community property under California law, as asserted by Jamie McCourt.
Although Frank McCourt’s attorneys vowed to fight on in court, Jamie McCourt’s lawyer, Dennis Wasser, suggested the decision would lead to negotiations.
“I’m hoping the other side will come to the bargaining table and we could consummate a reasonable resolution of all the issues,” Wasser told Reuters. “The team deserves it, I think the fans deserve it, and hopefully that will happen.”
Last week, another judge assigned as a mediator in the McCourts’ property dispute declared an impasse in efforts to reach a negotiated resolution, after Jamie McCourt apparently rejected a proposed settlement her ex-spouse accepted.
The terms of that proposal were kept confidential.
One future ownership scenario could be a deal giving one of the McCourts leadership of the club, with a third party holding the largest equity stake, said Marc Ganis, president of consulting firm Sportscorp Ltd, which advised the Tribune Co. in its record $845 million sale of the Chicago Cubs last year.
Ganis suggested the Dodgers could form a team-owned regional sports network in the second-largest U.S. television market once local broadcast rights for the Dodgers’ current TV deal with News Corp’s Fox expire in 2013.
“You could see the Dodgers’ value being something north of $900 million” under those circumstances, he said, calling the team “one of the jewels in baseball.”
The McCourts’ divorce was finalized on October 26. The couple, who were married for over 30 years and have four grown sons, bought the Los Angeles baseball team in 2004.
But Frank McCourt has argued he is sole owner because the team was purchased by a company he started before marrying.
Last May, Frank McCourt was ordered to pay $225,000 a month in temporary spousal support, plus $412,159 monthly to pay the mortgages on the couples’ real estate properties.
Additional reporting by Ben Klayman in Detroit; Editing by Greg McCune and Jerry Norton