A trial over Sumner Redstone’s mental competence could end as early as Monday when a California judge is expected to announce whether he will throw out a lawsuit from the 92-year-old media mogul’s former girlfriend.
In a legal brief prepared over the weekend, Redstone’s attorneys argued that the case should be dismissed, saying their client was competent and had made his wishes clear.
In a brief of their own, attorneys representing his ex-girlfriend, Manuela Herzer, argued that only a full trial could determine whether Redstone was competent and urged the judge to evaluate all the evidence “rather than looking at Redstone’s testimony in a vacuum or in isolation.”
The new legal arguments came in response to a request from Judge David Cowan, after a closed session on Friday, the opening day of trial, in which he watched videotaped testimony from the multibillionaire.
A transcript of the recording shows Redstone struggling to answer some questions coherently. But he was exceptionally clear about not wanting Herzer to play any role in his life, referring to her repeatedly as a “fucking bitch.”
Cowan called Redstone’s testimony “strong evidence,” and said he would consider over the weekend whether to grant a request by Redstone’s attorneys to toss out the case. He asked both sides to prepare legal briefs laying out their positions on why the case should or shouldn’t be dismissed.
Herzer, 52, contends Redstone, the controlling shareholder of Viacom (VIAB) and CBS (CBS), was not mentally competent when he removed her as his designated healthcare agent last October.
“Does he know what he’s doing? That’s what I’m wrestling with,” Cowan said.
Herzer earned Redstone’s animosity, the new Redstone brief contends, by filing “a petition full of needlessly salacious allegations about Mr. Redstone’s private affairs” thereby making “the most intimate details of Mr. Redstone’s life and medical condition” fodder for national media coverage.
Herzer’s attorneys assert in their filing that Redstone was unduly influenced and lacked capacity to make an independent decision. His care-givers were “a den of spies and co-conspirators of Shari Redstone,” the filing argues, “all working together to remove Herzer and take control of Redstone for their own financially-motivated (and sometimes competing) reasons.”
Herzer’s attorneys presented testimony on Friday from geriatric psychiatrist Stephen Read, who said that Redstone had dementia.
Read said he examined Redstone earlier this year on Herzer’s behalf. Among other tasks, Read said he asked Redstone to identify colored shapes.
“He did very poorly,” Read said, pointing at a green square when asked to point to a blue star. Read also said that Redstone has “uncontrollable outbursts of anger,” which interfere with his ability to reason.
If the case goes forward, the judge will hear on Monday from Keryn Redstone, a granddaughter of the mogul who is siding with Herzer. In court filings, 34-year-old Keryn Redstone said her grandfather had become a “prisoner in his own home” after Herzer was suddenly ejected from the mansion in October.
When she last saw her grandfather in February, “he just sat there, staring into space,” Keryn Redstone said.
A month ago, the two sides had reached a preliminary settlement agreement that would have awarded Herzer about $30 million, according to a source familiar with the matter. Those talks fell apart and the case proceeded to trial.