Trials & Litigation

Persuaded by deposition, judge pulls plug on Sumner Redstone competency trial

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Sumner Redstone

Sumner Redstone. Helga Esteb /

The Los Angeles trial of a former girlfriend’s lawsuit questioning the competency of media mogul Sumner Redstone had been expected to continue for another week.

But on Monday, after just one full day of trial, Superior Court Judge David J. Cowan pulled the plug.

Saying that he had been persuaded by a videotaped deposition of Redstone, 92, who is the chairman emeritus and controlling shareholder of both CBS Corp. and Viacom Inc., Cowan stopped the proceedings and tentatively ruled in Redstone’s favor, the Los Angeles Times (sub. req.) reports.

Bloomberg and the New York Times (reg. req.) also have stories.

Amidst dueling claims of self-interested behavior by those in Redstone’s circle, Redstone’s former companion and romantic partner Manuela Herzer sued to enforce what she said was his desire to have her oversee his household affairs and medical care. Herzer and another former Redstone girlfriend, Sydney Holland, reportedly collectively received some $150 million in gifts from Redstone between 2010 and 2015, according to his lawyers. Then Redstone ordered Herzer out of his home in October and, within days, removed her both as the person in charge of his health care and from an estate plan that was to provide her with $50 million and a $20 million Los Angeles home.

Herzer’s suit alleged that Redstone was not in his right mind at that time and under undue influence. The judge reached a different conclusion.

“Redstone’s testimony has ultimately defeated her case,” Cowan said. “Though Herzer may have believed that Redstone would not be able to say anything, or be able to understand the questions, he did both.”

The ailing Redstone has a speech impediment, but clearly said “I want Manuela out of my life” during the deposition, repeatedly using an expletive to refer to his ex, the LA Times reports.

Since Redstone said in the deposition that he now wants his daughter, Shari Redstone, vice chairwoman of CBS and Viacom, to make medical decisions for him, if need be, there is nothing further for the court to decide, Cowan said.

Although he reached no conclusions concerning Redstone’s mental capacity and the relative credibility of Shari Redstone and Herzer, the New York Times reports, that was not required, Cowan said in a Monday opinion.

“The court is finding only that the ‘proceeding is not reasonably necessary to protect the interests of the patient,’ ” the judge wrote, explaining: “There is no good cause for further judicial involvement where the court has now heard directly from Redstone that he has lost trust in Herzer, does not want her in his life and instead wants his daughter Shari to look after him if necessary.” Because “Redstone is presumed to have capacity … the court has no business interfering with his prerogatives.”

Herzer plans to appeal Cowan’s ruling and has also filed a new lawsuit (PDF) against Shari Redstone, other family members and members of Sumner Redstone’s staff, Deadline Hollywood reports.

Among other causes of action, it alleges that all defendants intentionally interfered with Herzer’s inheritance rights and violated her privacy and seeks exemplary and punitive damages.

Contrary to media reports of an ongoing romantic relationship, the suit says Herzer has been Redstone’s platonic friend for 15 years, although the two initially dated for a few years.

Gabrielle Vidal of Loeb & Loeb represents Sumner Redstone.

Her client “is grateful that the court dismissed this case and honored his stated wish to keep Manuela Herzer out of his life and healthcare decisions,” she said in a written statement after Cowan announced his decision. “Mr. Redstone looks forward to spending time with his loved ones in peace.”

Related coverage: “Sumner Redstone competency petition puts mogul’s law-grad granddaughter at odds with his daughter”

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