The trial early next month over who controls Sumner Redstone’s health care will be open to the public and media and not partially closed, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled today.
“Just because there is a trial doesn’t mean all his medical records should end up on the Internet,” said Judge David Cowan on Wednesday. To that he asserted, “in this country we have open trials, this is not Russia.” It’s not “practical” added Cowan in his tentative ruling to partially seal the trial as Redstone’s attorneys seek to do. “The trial will be dignified and will focus on the legal issues and try not to get distracted by things that are undignified,” he also said, emphasizing the need for “balance.”
The quickly convened downtown hearing today was scheduled after lawyers for the media mogul proposed earlier this week sealing portions of the proceedings and documents in the May 6 starting trial. As they have throughout the over 5-month legal battle first filed by Redstone’s ex-companion and former health care agent Manuela Herzer last fall, Redstone’s Loeb & Loeb attorneys sought to keep the 92-year old’s private medical information kept out of the spotlight.
“This was not a case that was brought by any choice of Mr. Redstone and brought against his will,” argued lawyers for the billionaire after Cowan gave his tentative ruling. Cowan cut off the Loeb & Loeb attorney by saying he did not want “to make this order before the trial starts.” Let us see the evidence, Cowan essentially noted, and then maybe we can talk “if required” on specific testimony. With the May 6 – 12 trial days now extended to include May 13 and May 16, a final status conference has been set for May 5.
Along with several medical professionals, nurses and household employees, Herzer and Sheri Redstone will be called as witnesses in the trial as likely will Viacom CEO and Chair Philippe Dauman. Video of a recent deposition of Dauman will be shown in the court, said Herzer’s lead lawyer Pierce O’Donnell today. Redstone’s other ex-companion Sydney Holland could be called as witness as could Redstone’s granddaughter Keryn. “I don’t want this case to turn into a history of Mr. Redstone’s family, “ the Judge said in caution, noting the “rivalries” in the clan. No decision has been made on whether or not Redstone himself will be a witness. A hearing on May 2 has been set on that matter.
Wednesday’s hearing comes one day after Dauman, who is Redstone’s current health care agent, was deposed in NYC by Bert Fields of Herzer’s Greenberg Glusker Fields Claman & Machtinge legal team. It also came mere hours after Herzer’s side filed an opposition calling the Redstone side’s plan “unworkable and unconstitutional” on several levels. “The Court should adhere to its previous determination that this proceeding be open and public,” said the filing (read it here).
Herzer’s lawyers also made another move to have Redstone himself testify as witness in the upcoming trial. Needless to say, having promised in an April 14 hearing that they would not call their client as a witness, Redstone’s attorneys fought back against the notice.
Filed in November, Herzer’s legal action was born out of her removal late last year as the one who would make health care decisions for the billionaire if he were unable to. From Day 1, Herzer has claimed that Redstone did not sign the papers giving the role to the NYC-based Dauman and that information about her ex’s actual health is being suppressed. Kicked out of Redstone’s Beverly Hills mansion on October 12, removed as his health care agent and deleted from his will and the more than $50 million she stood to see, Herzer alleges that the now ex-Viacom and CBS boss is a “living ghost.”
That notion was reinforced recently by an April 15, 2015 email that emerged in discovery. The correspondence to Herzer seemed to have an estate planning attorney of Redstone’s worrying last year that the mogul’s “current condition” could become public if daughter Sheri moved for a conservatorship.
Still, after months of jostling and hearings, the two sides appeared close to resolving matters in a negotiated settlement. However, things hit an “impasse,” in the words of Herzer’s lead lawyer O’Donnell, and fell apart in mid-April. Sources told Deadline at the time that Sheri Redstone was a big driver of a deal with Herzer. That deal, if it had been reached by both sides, would have seen the younger Redstone take over as her father’s health care agent from her apparent corporate nemesis Dauman. With talks crumbling, Herzer’s lawyers deposed Sheri Redstone in the matter on April 19.
After submitting to a court-ordered medical examination by a doctor of Herzer’s in late January, Redstone resigned from his position as executive chairman at CBS on February 3, with Les Moonves replacing him very soon afterward in a clear attempt to avoid any further corporate controversy arising from the suit. The next day Redstone dropped being executive chairman of Viacom with Dauman voted in to the job by the board over the expressed objections of Sheri Redstone.
As it stands, Redstone still controls 80% of the voting shares at Viacom and CBS – a fact that has Wall Street watching this matter closely.
Before reading out his tentative ruling on Wednesday afternoon, Cowan also granted five motions to quash calling up several medical records of Redstone’s, as the ex-Viacom boss’ attorneys desired. Herzer’s lawyers wanted the analysis available for the trial, specifically in regards to Redstone’s mental and neurological health and CT scans. Turning to the “little stuff,” Cowan also granted Team Redstone’s fifth motion to seal other medical records for privacy sake. Additionally, the Judge wanted to see redacted records from Dr. Reed, an expert hired as a consultant by Herzer’s side.