Jamie McCourt to fight in court for old Dodger job
LOS ANGELES -- The last couple of weeks have been downright brutal for Dodger fans.
Not only did the team get booted for the second consecutive year by the Philadelphia Phillies in the National League championship series, but now fans are learning about the front-office infighting during the season between owner Frank McCourt and his wife and former Dodger chief executive officer Jamie McCourt.
The couple's pending divorce and questions over whether the pair share ownership of the Dodgers threatens to throw the offseason in disarray and may crimp the team's ability to re-sign players or pursue free agents.
The team already has plenty to deal with this winter. The Dodgers face the most potential players eligible for free agency with 16, including Manny Ramirez, who must decide if he will exercise his $20 million option for next season and return. Manager Joe Torre is entering into the final season of his three-year contract.
This scenario has been played out before -- albeit on a smaller stage with the San Diego Padres, a Dodger rival. Former owner John Moores sold a portion of the team earlier this year to a group led by former Arizona Diamondbacks CEO Jeff Moorad, a deal driven by Moores' difficult divorce from his wife, Becky. Moorad's group will get complete control of the Padres within five years.
Robert Nachshin, an attorney who represented Moores in the divorce case, said Major League Baseball officials understand divorce is common, but might be queasy that the McCourts have gone public with their grievances.
"It's unfortunate that it's public," said Nachshin, who also has represented former Giants slugger Barry Bonds and other athletes. "It's not good for baseball. It's not good for the Dodgers. It's not good for the McCourts."
On Tuesday, Jamie McCourt filed for divorce, sought to regain her $2 million job and claimed she is the rightful co-owner of the Dodgers. Superior Court Commissioner Scott Gordon postponed the hearing until Nov. 5, saying he needed to review all the documents. Neither Jamie nor Frank McCourt were in court Wednesday.
Jamie McCourt claims her husband wanted her out of the team's front office as a way to "humiliate and ostracize" her. She said in a declaration that she was excluded from management decisions and had lodged a workplace harassment complaint with team attorneys.
She was fired on Oct. 21 -- the same day the Dodgers were bounced from the playoffs by the Phillies.
In response, Frank McCourt said he fired his estranged wife because she was having an affair with her bodyguard and doing a poor job.
In a filing submitted by the Dodgers that opposes her return to the team, Dodgers attorneys allege that Jamie McCourt took a trip with her bodyguard-driver, Jeff Fuller, in early July to Israel on team business, but then headed to France and billed the Dodgers for the 2½-week trip. Her attorney, Bert Fields, denied that Jamie McCourt billed the team.
She is also accused of not giving her husband any information about her assignments as chief executive and not providing the team with her schedule of public appearances.
In a declaration filed by Frank McCourt, he references Fuller as well, saying before his wife went on the trip she asked him for three things -- one of which was to have Fuller be her driver.
Fuller, who worked for the Dodgers since January 2007 and was director of protocol, was let go earlier this month.
Fields said the relationship between his client and Fuller didn't begin until after the McCourts broke up. Fields couldn't say when the relationship started, but he called the revelation by Frank McCourt part of a "smear campaign."
"Her having a relationship is something for him to capitalize on," Fields said. "We're not going to start throwing stones about his personal life."
Fields added that Jamie McCourt has been talking to investors over the past week in an attempt to buy out Frank McCourt, including one wealthy person who Fields would not name.
"People who are in the know will say Jamie is more competent to run the team than Frank," he said.
How the Dodgers will spend their money next season is not known. The team's 2009 payroll was just north of $100 million, ranking ninth highest in the majors.
Nachshin believes the McCourts will have to spend millions of dollars on legal fees.
"I predict each side will spend $10 million," he said.
Jamie McCourt also wants access to perks including travel by private jet, stays at five-star resorts and use of the Dodgers owners' suite. She wants $321,000 a month in spousal support if reinstated to her former position. If not, she believes she should be paid nearly $488,000 per month.
Nachshin believes if Jamie McCourt's request for $321,000 or more in monthly spousal support is granted, it would be the highest awarded in California. He said he's handled a case where $100,000 a month was awarded and many colleagues tell him that's the highest amount they're aware of.
He added she's unlikely to be reinstated to her former position with the Dodgers. Nachshin said an order requiring Frank McCourt to rehire her would be unprecedented.
Whomever is the team's owner in 2010, Dodger players and personnel don't believe the feud will hamper the payroll or affect the team on the field.
"I got to believe in my heart they're going to handle it the right way," pitcher Jon Garland said.
Associated Press Entertainment Writer Anthony McCartney and Sports Writer Beth Harris contributed to this report
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press
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