McCourts reach settlement in divorce battle

October 20, 2011 - 10:18 PM

LOS ANGELES (AP) — For nearly 30 years Frank and Jamie McCourt were a team, raising four sons and moving from Massachusetts to California seven years ago to purchase and run one of baseball's crown jewels — the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The couple wasn't able to hold the marriage together in the end and they went their separate ways in 2009 with Frank McCourt unceremoniously firing his wife while she served as the Dodgers' CEO.

After a nasty and costly divorce feud, which highlighted their lavish spending, the two will be in the same dugout one last time as they take on Major League Baseball with the hopes of keeping the Dodgers in the family.

On Monday, the former couple announced they had reached a settlement in their divorce case that calls for Jamie McCourt to support a media rights deal that could be worth up to $3 billion — something she once opposed.

The terms of the agreement, which was recently struck between the McCourts, won't be released, but a person familiar with it who requested anonymity because it's not meant to be public told The Associated Press that Jamie McCourt would receive about $130 million, a figure first reported by the Los Angeles Times.

A Los Angeles judge still has to sign off on the agreement, but once he does the settlement effectively ends the divorce saga that drew the ire of many Dodgers fans.

The divorce case had been placed on hold until a bankruptcy court in Delaware determines the fate of the team. A hearing is scheduled for Wednesday and a judge will consider dueling motions over four days starting Oct. 31.

The settlement now allows Frank McCourt to focus on his battle with MLB, which is seeking permission from a bankruptcy judge to file a reorganization plan that calls for McCourt to sell the Dodgers.

MLB spokesman Pat Courtney declined comment about the settlement.

"I think they want to show the world they are a united front," said Los Angeles-based family law attorney Lisa Helfend Meyer. "They are overtly showing MLB and other detractors that they are reasonable."

Attorneys for Frank McCourt have argued a media rights sale is the best path out of bankruptcy for the team he bought in 2004 for about $430 million.

The McCourts previously reached a divorce settlement in June, but the deal was contingent on approval of a proposed television contract between the Dodgers and Fox. That deal would have given Jamie McCourt $100 million and she would retain the former couple's six luxurious homes.

But baseball Commissioner Bud Selig rejected the 17-year TV contract with Fox days later, reported to be worth up to $3 billion, noting in part that almost half of an immediate $385 million payment would have been diverted from the Dodgers.

On June 27, Frank McCourt took the Dodgers into bankruptcy.

Jamie McCourt subsequently lined up behind Major League Baseball and Fox in asking the bankruptcy court to reject Frank McCourt's bid to auction Dodgers television rights.

If Frank McCourt were to prevail in bankruptcy court, it's unclear whether the judge would allow him to tap into the TV money to pay the settlement. It's also unknown whether the proceeds from the sale of the team would even exceed $130 million.

Some observers said one of the reasons behind the settlement may be the legal bills that have amassed over the past two years. The former couple has racked up more than $20 million in fees, according to court documents.

"This ends it," said Los Angeles family attorney Robert Nachshin. "They stop paying divorce lawyers and she gets $130 million."

MLB had assumed control of the club's day-to-day operations in mid-April before the team filed for bankruptcy. Former Texas Rangers President Tom Schieffer was appointed to monitor the team on behalf of Selig, who said he took the action because he was concerned about the team's finances and how the Dodgers are being run.

Last year, the McCourts went through a highly publicized trial that focused on a postnuptial marital agreement they had signed in 2004. The public learned that they took out more than $100 million in loans from Dodgers-related businesses. Their spending habits were likened to using the money from the team as if it was their personal ATM or credit card.

A Los Angeles judge ruled in December that the marital agreement which gave Frank McCourt sole ownership of the Dodgers was invalid, clearing the way for Jamie McCourt to seek half the team under California's community property law.

A group backed by Chinese government-owned investment banks had made a $1.2 billion offer to buy the Dodgers, but Frank McCourt has repeatedly said he's not interested in selling the team.