Late last week, Bill Shaikin of the Times ran a pretty neat piece which speculated that the professional fees in the McCourt divorce--lawyers, accountants, and the rest--might end up totaling $19 million. As Shaikin cleverly notes, that's more than the Dodgers will spend on their starting infield going into the 2010 season. Further on in the article:
Divorce lawyers generally charge from $250 to $750 per hour in the Southland, according to Sharon Hulse, executive director of the Levitt and Quinn Family Law Center in Los Angeles. She said a "simple" divorce could cost $10,000.
The Britney Spears-Kevin Federline divorce cost $835,000, The Times reported last year. Former NFL quarterback Bernie Kosar told the Miami Herald last year he spent more than $4 million on attorney fees — at $600 an hour — on his divorce.
Charlotte Goldberg, who teaches family law and marital property law at Loyola Law School, said costs in the McCourt case appear to be extraordinarily high.
"Millions of dollars in a family law case — even in a high-profile one — is unusual," she said. "It's hard to imagine what issues are so complex as to entail such high attorneys' fees."
Jamie's lawyers justify their pay by referring to the complexity of unraveling the McCourt Enterprise's financial structure and dealings. And there's surely some truth to that; you can see the ultra-simplified organizational chart here. All of it exists, essentially, to launder money. I don't mean that pejoratively; there is nothing suggesting the McCourt Enterprise was operating outside the law. But our country's perverse tax structure begets complex mechanisms to avoid it. It's smart business.
There's likely something else behind the astronomical sums being expended in the discovery phase of this litigation: Jamie probably doesn't have to pay for it. Not really, anyway. Given that her motive here is to drag things out as long as possible, it makes sense for her to throw request after request at Frank's legal team, which must respond in kind. Because Jamie ends up billing Frank for the costs of her representation, she feels free to run up the bills with relative impunity.
What's going on is that neither Jamie nor her lawyers have incentives to cut costs. The court will likely grant Jamie's request that Frank pay her legal bills; he's unquestionably in a much better financial position than she is at the moment. And even if the court sticks her with the bills, the firms involved shouldn't be too worried about getting paid; Jamie's going to be a very wealthy woman coming out of this. It's just a matter of degrees.
As Shaikin's article notes, settling at least part of the litigation would save a goodly sum. However, both McCourts are taking the long view on this. For Jamie, what good is settling spousal support now to save $5 million in professional fees if she's leaving much more than that on the table by settling? Remember, she's asking for about $1 million per month. She'll spend whatever it takes.
The post-nup issue is even less likely to be settled any time soon. The outcome is so binary--the team's either Frank's or it's both of theirs--that it's hard to find common ground. I suppose Frank could pay Jamie a certain amount of money to drop her claim to the team, but there's no indication the two could ever agree on a number.
So, yeah: $19 million is a lot of money, even an unprecedented amount. But this is an unprecedentedly expensive divorce.