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The sale of the Los Angeles Dodgers, coupled with his $130 million divorce settlement, could help winnow any damages in a malpractice claim by team owner Frank McCourt against Bingham McCutchen, the law firm that drafted an invalid marital agreement at the heart of his divorce. McCourt and Major League Baseball have been fighting for most of the year over the future of the Dodgers, which filed for bankruptcy protection in June. On Nov. 2, the Dodgers and Major League Baseball agreed to sell the team at auction. In a joint statement, they said: “The Los Angeles Dodgers and Major League Baseball announced that they have agreed today to a court supervised process to sell the team and its attendant media rights in a manner designed to realize maximum value for the Dodgers and their owner, Frank McCourt. The Blackstone Group LP will manage the sale process.” It was unclear what price the team — including Dodgers Stadium, parking lots and future media rights — might fetch. In bankruptcy filings, McCourt has estimated the value at $1 billion at least, but one potential bidder, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, has publicly declared that price was too high. Forbes magazine has predicted bidding could start at $800 million. Last year, the Texas Rangers baseball team was sold in a bankruptcy court auction for $593 million. McCourt, who purchased the Dodgers in 2004 for $421 million in a highly leveraged deal, faces numerous debts. On Oct. 17, he agreed to pay $130 million to settle his lengthy divorce from his ex-wife, Jamie McCourt. During the summer, he obtained a $30 million personal loan from Fox Sports — which broadcasts Dodgers games — that was secured by a future malpractice claim against Bingham. McCourt used the loan to meet the team’s payroll and expenses. The divorce settlement and a team sale would put both parties in the malpractice dispute in position to attach a dollar figure to any damages, according to outside legal malpractice specialists. “Is Bingham on the hook for something? I don’t think the sale speaks to that,” said Lawrence Cunningham, a law professor at George Washington University School of Law. “I do think the sale will begin to put some numbers on the table.” Lyndsey Estin, a spokeswoman for the Dodgers, declined to comment. Marc Seltzer, a partner in the Los Angeles office of Houston’s Susman Godfrey who represented McCourt in his divorce, did not respond to a request for comment. Claire Papanastasiou, a spokeswoman for Bingham McCutchen, declined to comment. The firm has retained Kevin Rosen, chairman of the legal malpractice defense practice at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. In December, Los Angeles County, Calif., Superior Court Judge Scott Gordon ruled that a 2004 marital agreement between Frank and Jamie McCourt was invalid under California law. Jamie McCourt maintained that the couple’s attorney, Lawrence Silverstein, a trusts and estates lawyer in Bingham’s Boston office, had changed the contract language at the last minute to give Frank McCourt sole ownership of the team. Frank McCourt disputed Jamie McCourt’s contention that she never intended to give up her partial ownership of the team by signing the marital agreement. The judge did not rule on whether Bingham was liable for malpractice, and the firm has not admitted wrongdoing. But in April, Bingham sued Frank McCourt in Suffolk County, Mass., Superior Court, seeking to prevent its former client from filing a malpractice case against the firm. On Aug. 17, Associate Justice Janet Sanders dismissed the case, clearing a path for McCourt to sue Bingham for malpractice. If Bingham is found liable, McCourt could argue that, had he not had to fight his ex-wife over the marital agreement, he might have gotten more for the team. “As he’s preparing this auction, he’ll be simultaneously preparing a private evaluation sheet that shows if these bad things hadn’t happened — if he hadn’t had a fight with his wife, with Major League Baseball snooping around in his books — there’s this additional value he’d be getting today,” Cunningham said. “It adds a little bit of credibility or persuasiveness to whatever proof he needs to submit.” But Bingham could raise a host of defenses. For one thing, the firm benefits from McCourt’s participation in selling the Dodgers, said Brett Clark, an attorney at Lommen, Abdo, Cole, King & Stageberg in Minneapolis. Had U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Kevin Gross forced him to sell the team, McCourt would have had a stronger case against Bingham, he said. Then there are the accusations that Frank and Jamie McCourt took $189 million in loans from the team to support their lifestyle, which included eight houses. “Look at everything he and Jamie have taken out of the Dodgers,” said Michael Dempsey, a partner at Dempsey & Johnson in Los Angeles. “He’s got a serious problem with the money he’s already taken out, because Bingham is going to argue they get to offset any damage claim with that.” With so many outside factors tied to any potential lost value of the Dodgers, McCourt could have trouble proving an essential malpractice element: That he would have gotten a better deal had it not been for Bingham’s alleged malpractice, Dempsey said. A better case for McCourt could be to claim damages based on his divorce settlement. “No matter how you slice it, a pretty substantial chunk of the $130 million represents ownership of the Dodgers,” Clark said. On the other hand, Bingham could attack the value of the settlement. “There’s no doubt that Frank was certainly desperate to bring a part of it to a head,” Clark said. “He’s fighting a two-front war and he has multiple parties in bankruptcy court demanding the court put the Dodgers on the block for sale. It’s certainly in his interest to get that settled as quickly as possible, and I suppose Bingham could probably argue it was done hastily.” McCourt could argue for legal fees he spent during his divorce, which, by some accounts, totaled $20 million. Yet this claim could prove tricky, especially for a divorce that involved a substantial team of lawyers. “All Bingham has to pay is whatever the reasonable cost was of litigating whether there was or was not an agreement,” Dempsey said. Contact Amanda Bronstad at [email protected].

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