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Hope: A Tragedy: A Novel

Hope: A Tragedy: A Novel

By Shalom Auslander

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The War of the McCourts

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Posted on Sep 27, 2010
AP / Reed Saxon

Jamie and Frank McCourt display Dodger jerseys after buying the team in 2004.

By Mark Heisler

(Page 3)

In court papers, the McCourts were alleged—by Jamie’s lawyers—to have taken out $108 million in personal distributions.

There was only one thing Frank and Jamie apparently didn’t do—break any law.

Amazingly, despite the scope of the wheeling and dealing, there have been no allegations they did anything illegal.

Suppose you were so slick, no matter how many hundreds of millions you owed, you could go out and borrow hundreds of millions more.


Square, Site wide
You just might try to find out how many yachts you could water-ski behind, like Gordon Gekko, Frank and Jamie.


*  *  *

Where do companies turn when you-know-what hits the fan? Say for example, when FBI agents invade your offices or an out-of-state bank refuses to renew your credit line that is keeping the company and the economy afloat? Two companies with these actual problems had one answer: Michael Sitrick.   

—CFO magazine

And just as amazingly, no one was on their trail.

No one would have even known about the McCourts’ wanton juggling act if they had done only one thing ...

Stay together.

Unfortunately, it can be hard to split the loot with the heat coming down on you, as times changed and the boom burst.

Now the marriage, which had featured stormy confrontations, had a crack in its foundation.

Upon buying the team in 2004, Frank and Jamie had signed a property agreement in which she gave up any claim to the Dodgers for title to all their other property, which may be why they bought so much more property.

In later years, Jamie, aware the team’s value would skyrocket in 2014 when it regained its TV rights from Fox, pressed Frank to reapportion their property.

Frank was willing but estate planning foundered on the issues of Jamie’s claim to the team, and the team’s value.

As in any negotiation, there was a doomsday scenario—divorce—although Jamie’s estate lawyer, Leah Bishop, advised her client (in an e-mail that would be filed in court papers) that that was “the nuclear option.”

Only Jamie and Frank know when they had it with each other, and their versions differ by 180 degrees.

In any case, while figuring out who got what, they split up.

In 2009, they took separate vacations. Jamie went to Cape Cod with Fuller.

A day after the Dodger season ended, Frank fired Jamie from her $2-million-a-year CEO post, noting “inappropriate behavior with regard to a direct subordinate.”

Jamie tacitly acknowledged the affair with Fuller, telling the L.A. Times’ T.J. Simers that it didn’t begin “until the marriage broke up.”

So started the Mutually Assured Destruction phase.

Within weeks, TMZ reported Jamie had called 911 to keep Frank from entering their Holmby Hills home.

Frank’s lawyers issued a statement saying he was jogging by when he found “his wife swimming in the pool and her personal ‘security assistant,’ Jeff Fuller, was also at the residence.”

Jamie’s lawyers denied Fuller was there.

On Aug. 30, after 10 months of not settling this before it really got ugly, the trial began, making up in sensation what it seemed to lack in merit.

Jamie’s case is based on her insistence that she didn’t understand the 2004 property agreement—incredible as that sounds, as Jamie herself noted.

In a 2008 e-mail to the Boston attorney who drafted the document, and backed Frank’s understanding, Jamie wrote:

“Don’t forget, I was a divorce lawyer there and I am really clear on what the intended distributions were to be.”

In the same e-mail, Jamie acknowledged that it was “my fault, I guess, for not having read the post marital document and believing that you were preserving the status quo.”

This seemed to leave Boies a who-are-you-going-to-believe-me-or-your-eyes defense with worse odds than he had with Al Gore before a Supreme Court with five justices wearing “W.” buttons.

Jamie went for it anyway, pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into a vintage Sitrick PR campaign, sitting down with anyone who mattered, even Simers, who had referred to her as “the Screaming Meanie.”

(As Kathleen Turner sneers in “The War of the Roses” when Michael Douglas tells her to get a good lawyer, “Best your money can buy.”)

With Frank silent, stories tended to be sympathetic narratives of what went through Jamie’s mind when this and that happened, which hardly changed the basic equation.

Wrote ESPN magazine’s Molly Knight of Jamie’s ability to remember the exact time she saw Frank’s e-mail firing her on her BlackBerry, but not where she was:

“She was alone in her home, yes, but which one? It was hard to keep them straight.”

So much for the PR war.

If defendant and claimant were pariahs, the trial was a gift from the gods as the cream of U.S. jurisprudence acknowledged their own clients’ excesses, secrets and lies.

It was Steve Susman, Frank’s lead attorney, who asserted the McCourts put “not a penny of cash” in the purchase, making the point that it was prudent for Jamie to trade her claim to the team for their other property.

Another of Frank’s lawyers, local divorce biggie Sorrell Trope (Elin Nordegren, Hugh Grant, Cary Grant), compared Jamie to Marie Antoinette after Jamie’s attorney, Dennis Wasser (Tom Cruise, Clint Eastwood, Steven Spielberg), set him up, detailing the royal lifestyle to justify Jamie’s request for $1 million a month.

“They lived in seven lavish homes ... flew in private jets ... had hairstylists come to their house every day,” said Wasser.

New and Improved Comments

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By cmarcusparr, September 30, 2010 at 9:15 am Link to this comment

Kwakiutl anyone? Bonfires indeed.

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By Al, September 29, 2010 at 7:40 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The writing in this piece was so forced, so contrived, that this story simply gets lost in
bogus irony. So yeah, greed is bad, blah blah blah; writing as unclear as this is the real
crime. Go back to middle school and learn to write one clear sentence, then try this
one again.

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peterjkraus's avatar

By peterjkraus, September 29, 2010 at 7:20 am Link to this comment

It’s called “greed”, it consists of “leveraging”,
uses the “old boys’ club” (or, in this case, “old
girls’”, I guess), employs legal fraud and rests
secure in the knowledge that despite all the leeches,
the legal mooches and the hangers-on getting rich off
the marital proceedings, most of the ill-gotten gains
will remain in murky offshore accounts of the
principals in this tale.

So what else is new? It’s America, folks, where
everyone can make it.

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Napolean DoneHisPart's avatar

By Napolean DoneHisPart, September 29, 2010 at 7:03 am Link to this comment

This is EXACTLY the behaviour in a society where ‘capital’ is what is number one, not people…

For why do you think it is called a ‘capital crime’ to kill someone, hmmmm?

Who can answer that!?!

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By tedmurphy41, September 29, 2010 at 5:37 am Link to this comment

But isn’t this what you would expect in a purely capital orientated society?

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Queenie's avatar

By Queenie, September 28, 2010 at 1:41 pm Link to this comment

I do not know these people. Never heard of them. The picture looks like they are comparing laundry detergents. Why should I care?

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By robert puglia, September 28, 2010 at 8:57 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

but, what? they’re capitalists, proud americans. i
would that they were exceptional.
they could both be senators.

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By Inherit The Wind, September 28, 2010 at 3:49 am Link to this comment

And so, the last link to the Brooklyn Dodgers is severed…that wonderful iconic team, the Brooklyn Trolley-Dodgers, The Bums, that united a city, Brooklyn, against the world.

Cabbie: “How’re the Bums doin’?”
Passenger: “Great! We have 3 men on base.”
Cabbie” “You don’t say? Which base?”

(when 3 runners all collided headfirst one base and knocked themselves out, including the OTHER “Babe” in NYC, “Babe” Herman.)

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Napolean DoneHisPart's avatar

By Napolean DoneHisPart, September 27, 2010 at 9:19 pm Link to this comment

Maybe something to do with strategic points of entry being ‘managed.’

So a direct public transportation route across a metropolis to / from a heavily populated area / popular / iconic location need be broken by other transportation means.

Or just plain incompetence across the board…. or both or several other reasons we’ll never know or be told about.

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Dodger Tony's avatar

By Dodger Tony, September 27, 2010 at 8:36 pm Link to this comment

I have been saying these things since day one, Mark. How about another insidious crime: the lack of the Pasadena Gold Line going TO Dodger Stadium, but going BY it, not unlike the Green Line going BY the airport, but not going TO it.

Mike Davis “City of Quartz” madness!

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By gerard, September 27, 2010 at 6:50 pm Link to this comment

The American Dream on steroids.

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Napolean DoneHisPart's avatar

By Napolean DoneHisPart, September 27, 2010 at 5:33 pm Link to this comment

Is it more ‘what will my friends and family think?’

or more ‘oh my God, I can’t lose all this money, what will I do?’

or could it be the ‘I just can’t go back to beans and rice’ that really gets people on the hook to sell anyone out, including themselves?

This people’s ‘world’ is any American’s Wet Dream, is it not? ( AWD’s )

Yet you must wonder what really matters to them most in life? 

Folks are so MESMERIZED and ENTHRALLED by that fiat currency, that toilet paper we pass to one another with a ‘promise’ to pay from Uncle Slam… and are first to deny their attraction to wealth and difficulty letting it slip away.

Have Mercy on all who read this Lord…

What was / is YOUR AWD?

Mine was to make as much money as possible or the first million and give half to the church and share the rest with my close relatives… I was about 9 at the time.

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