Written by The Business Journal Staff
(AP) — A trial to determine whether the mental competency of Sumner Redstone will begin Friday morning with a judge hearing directly from the media mogul after months of speculation about his health.
The case will examine whether Redstone knowingly kicked a longtime companion and former lover out of his home last year, replacing her as the person in charge of making health decisions for him and cutting her out of estate plans.
The trial follows months of fighting between Redstone’s attorneys and lawyers for Manuela Herzer, who dated the mogul for a short period but remained close to him for 15 years and received tens of millions of dollars. Redstone’s lawyers say Herzer and another of their client’s ex-girlfriends, Sydney Holland, received $150 million between 2010 and 2015.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge David J. Cowan said Thursday that Herzer’s credibility — and whether she repeatedly lied to Redstone before he kicked her out of his life in October 2015 — are a key issue in the trial.
Herzer’s attorney Pierce O’Donnell denies his client is motivated by money and has said Redstone is being influenced by his daughter, a nurse and others. Redstone’s lawyers say the accusation is unfounded and say their client has made clear he doesn’t want Herzer in his life anymore.
Redstone, 92, controls Viacom Inc. and CBS Corp. through his company National Amusements.
His attorneys have said despite a severe speech impediment, Redstone still has the ability to make his own decisions.
“But for the stress that this litigation is causing him and notwithstanding his well-known physical ailments, Mr. Redstone is doing well,” his attorneys wrote in a trial brief Thursday.
Herzer’s attorney said he will play Sumner Redstone’s testimony and call a doctor and Redstone’s granddaughter as witnesses on Friday. He may also play deposition testimony from Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman if time permits.
The outcome of the trial, which may span seven days, could have implications far beyond the small Los Angeles courtroom Cowan will hear about Redstone’s health and the inner workings of his mansion in recent months.
The trial will focus on whether Sumner Redstone was of sound mind when he approved removing Herzer from his life. If Cowan rules he was incompetent at the time, or made the decision because of undue influence, several subsequent decisions about his estate would also be invalidated.
“The trial will expose the tragic inconvenient truth that Sumner Redstone needs the court’s protection from those who have lied to and exploited him in his debilitated condition,” O’Donnell wrote in a statement Thursday.
Redstone’s attorneys say he is eager for the proceedings to conclude.
“Mr. Redstone appreciates the court’s continued regard for his privacy and dignity, and looks forward to putting this ugly, invasive chapter behind him,” his lawyers wrote in a court filing Thursday.