Frank McCourt, owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, thought he and his estranged wife had signed a separation agreement in which she renounced any claim to ownership of the team.
A California Superior Court has thrown out the alleged agreement, however – partly because it wasn’t clear whether Mr. and Ms. McCourt ever read the agreement before signing, and partly because different copies of the contract featured different wording:
“Neither party has produced credible evidence that both parties or either party fully and completely read and understood the marital property agreement before it was executed,” Gordon, who presided over a nonjury trial in September, said in his decision. “There was no mutual assent or meeting of the minds.”
The judge also said there hadn’t been sufficient evidence which of two contradictory versions of the postnuptial agreement reflected the couple’s intent. One version had an exhibit that included the Dodgers as Frank McCourt’s separate property and the other excluded the team from his sole property.
Frank McCourt’s lawyer said during the trial that the conflicting exhibits had been a “scrivener’s error” and that the purpose of the agreement was to make the team his sole property so that his business creditors couldn’t go after the houses that were in his wife’s name.
In September, Above the Law noted that there were two sets of signed agreements, which differed by one word:
According to media reports, three copies of the marital property agreement use the word “inclusive,” which would make Frank McCourt the sole owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and three copies say “exclusive,” which would make Jamie McCourt the co-owner of the venerable Major League Baseball franchise.
Mr. McCourt still maintains that his ex has no right to a share of the Dodgers, but the team may have to be sold to settle the matter.
The lesson for family lawyers: make sure your client understands every single word of his or her separation agreement, and examine every copy of the document to make sure the wording is exactly the same.