The McCourt trial ended yesterday, with closing statements offered by the attorneys. Lots of different attorneys, according to the L.A. Times summary. Each side had, like, three people making arguments. What was this, a tag team match? I understand multiple lawyers taking stabs at different parts of closing if it’s a complicated case, but this is a bench trial in which, basically, a single fact was at issue. And people wonder how the McCourts could have run up $8 million in attorneys fees.
Anyway, here’s an insight that may appeal to, like, six of you who care about such things, but I just can’t shake it: Frank McCourt’s lawyers keep arguing that the business with his lawyer switching out versions of the agreement that was to decide who owns the Dodgers was no big deal. A clerical error. A “scrivener’s error.” Of no consequence at all. But tell me: if Jamie wins, and Frank has to give her hundreds of millions of dollars, how much time will elapse between the judgment coming down and the malpractice suit Frank files against his “scrivener”? I’m guessing he may let a day go by, but not two, and when he does he will characterize it as the most egregious case of professional misconduct in the history of Anglo-American jurisprudence. That’ll be fun.
As for the outcome, I don’t really know what to think. Based on everything I’ve read, I am of the opinion that Jamie McCourt’s story that she always thought she was going to own half the team is self-serving post-facto baloney. I don’t buy that she didn’t read the documents and understand what she was signing. I don’t buy that Frank was truly going to give her every one of their houses AND the Dodgers. It just doesn’t make sense to me based on the things we’ve heard about their respective appetites for risk, their history and all of that. I simply don’t find her side of the story credible.
At the same time, I do find the scrivener’s story credible. I bet there was an error in the documents and that — as the man who made the error — the lawyer did just go back and try to substitute the correct document in there and hope no one ever figured it out. I used to do a lot of professional responsibility defense work, and I’ve seen lots of lawyers do this. It’s always, always, always the wrong thing to do, but I’ve seen them do it.
But just because I find it credible doesn’t mean it’s defensible. There’s too much at stake in the legal system — not just for rich people like the McCourts but for everyone — for courts to overlook lawyer misconduct and make assumptions about what was really going on. Yes, in this case taking a hard line may reward Jamie’s post-facto baloney and may, in the end, cost Frank the Dodgers. But it’s going to be hard for a judge to essentially validate the document switcheroo.
We’ll find out for sure in 90 days, when a decision comes out.