LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt and his estranged wife squared off in court for the first time Monday in a bitter divorce case that featured the couple's high-flying spending habits after the team was purchased in 2004.
The court hearing, only a mile from Dodger Stadium, centered on whether Jamie McCourt should be awarded nearly $1 million a month in temporary spousal support. Sorrell Trope, an attorney for Frank McCourt, offered her $150,000 in monthly assistance and argued his client can't tap credit lines to maintain Jamie McCourt's lavish lifestyle despite Frank McCourt's $5 million annual salary.
"If we look at this case, realistically, you can't order Mr. McCourt to borrow money to pay support," Trope told Superior Court Commissioner Scott Gordon.
The details of the couple's 30-year marriage seemed more of a dream than a reality. From private jets to stays at five-star resorts, the lawyers threw out a slew of dizzying figures that indicated the McCourts may have been spending beyond their means. Most of their assets are tied up in real estate, including Dodger Stadium and the land around it.
"These people have lived their lives with borrowed money," Trope said. "They have to stop spending. This isn't the federal government."
While the couple is squabbling over money, the larger issue is whether the Dodgers are community property. Jamie McCourt maintains she is the team's co-owner, while her husband argues a marital agreement between the two gives him sole possession of the Dodgers.
Gordon ordered attorneys on both sides to make further arguments in court papers by April 12, after which he'll have 90 days to make a decision. A hearing will be held Tuesday to determine a trial date on the validity of the marital agreement.
Jamie McCourt's attorney, Dennis Wasser, said his client is entitled to the lifestyle she had during her marriage. He also said she has to spend about $568,000 every month on mortgages and related expenses for six homes and one condominium – more than half of what she is asking from her husband.
When asked if Jamie McCourt would accept her husband's $150,000 offer, Wasser said outside of court that the figure wouldn't even cover the mortgage for one of the homes. He added the mortgages had been paid through February, but his client is behind on her attorney fees by $800,000. Wasser estimated her legal bills could reach as high as $9 million.
Meanwhile, Frank McCourt continues to live in luxury despite claims the economic downturn has hurt his businesses. Wasser said Frank McCourt attended the Super Bowl and recently spent as much as $80,000 on a Caribbean vacation.
"Mr. McCourt desires to continue the lifestyle while trying to erase Mrs. McCourt from the Dodgers, from the marital lifestyle," Wasser said.
Jamie McCourt estimated she has about $4 million in savings and roughly $450,000 in cash that will quickly run out due to the monthly mortgage payments. She believes she shouldn't have to "invade" her savings to pay for her living expenses.
She also cites a long list of other expenses she and her husband had during their marriage such as trips to Paris and Vietnam, country club memberships and dining at expensive restaurants. She said she enjoys wearing designer clothing and has a hair stylist and makeup artist.
She has said in court documents that the couple's worth is more than $1.2 billion.
Jamie McCourt was fired in October as the team's CEO where she drew a $2 million salary. Wasser said during the hearing that the couple enjoyed a lifestyle few could imagine.
"The marital style at the time, every need, every want these people had was met," Wasser said.
During a deposition earlier this month, when asked if there was any amount of money he should give to support his wife, Frank McCourt then said no.
"Because I think she has ample resources to take care of herself, which I'm -- I'm very happy about that fact," he said.
He was referring to the couple's seven properties, which are worth an estimated $65 million and belong to her as outlined in the martial agreement. His attorneys have argued that she could rent out the properties or sell them. Trope said Jamie McCourt uses a house in Holmby Hills exclusively for swimming while another is used to store furniture.
Her attorneys countered that Frank McCourt has at least $18 million available. They also hammered him during his deposition about his spending habits that they contend haven't decreased even though he has said he was hit hard by the recession.
Neither Jamie McCourt nor Frank McCourt testified, even though they were sworn in at the beginning of the hearing. Frank McCourt sat with a stern look behind Trope while his wife sat next to her attorneys.
By Frank McCourt's own admission, things began to spiral downward once the couple moved from Massachusetts to California.
"I think it was a very – very comfortable, very nice and very family oriented and we had a lot of nice things," Frank McCourt said in court documents. "I think it became an out of – out-of-control, unsustainable and very uncomfortable lifestyle."
Jamie McCourt filed for divorce in October, citing irreconcilable differences. The McCourts have been married since 1979 and have four grown sons.
She already lost her initial bid to be reinstated as the team's chief executive. But Gordon hasn't decided whether the Dodgers are considered community or separate property. If he rules the team is community property, Jamie McCourt could argue again that she should get her job back.
The amount of riches argued about during the hearing wasn't lost on Trope, who said he almost needed to apologize for Frank McCourt's $5 million salary. He also called some of Jamie McCourt's demands "obscene."
"Where are we?" Trope asked. "This is like Alice in Wonderland, but you can't keep Alice in Wonderland going by borrowing on every single asset you have."