UPDATED with Viacom statement: With the legal trench warfare continuing between Sumer Redstone and his side against Viacom Chair and CEO Philippe Dauman and other would-be ousted execs, now comes news that a sit-down was declined last week that could have seen some détente.
“Fred Salerno, Philippe Dauman, and George Abrams have repeatedly told the courts that the Viacom board is being blocked from meeting with Sumner, leaving them no choice but to pursue claims,” said Redstone spokesman Mike Lawrence today after Reuters reported a reapprochement of sorts had been in the offering. “That fiction has been shattered.”
“When Sumner agreed to make his wishes clear in a face-to-face meeting with independent director Charles Phillips, the Viacom board would not let that happen,” Lawrence added in a statement on Monday. “Philippe and his allies long ago stopped caring about what Sumner wants, or even the shareholders generally. It’s all about self-preservation.”
“The statement from Mr. Redstone’s “strategy team” is both inaccurate and incomplete” said a Viacom spokesperson in a statement in response. “The only fiction that has been shattered is that a meeting would be permitted that could actually assess Mr. Redstone’s capacity and undue influence. The one fact not in question is that an examination to assess Mr. Redstone’s capacity and undue influence needs to happen. We will have no further comment until we hear from the courts.”
Salerno, Dauman and Abrams have all been theoretically tossed from the Viacom board via Redstone’s alleged wishes in the last month. They claim that 93-year old Redstone’s sometime estranged daughter Shari is actually behind the sudden corporate moves as well as yanking them off the Redstone Family Trust matter and the board of National Amusements, which owns 80% of Viacom’s voting shares.
With control over a $40 billion media empire and the potential sale of Viacom’s stake in Paramount on the table, Dauman, Salerno and Abrams have previously claimed that they are being blocked from sitting down with Redstone directly. Despite brief and monosyllabic visits to the Paramount and CBS offices in recent weeks, the question of Redstone’s mental capacity has become the heart of the legal battles.
The very same questions and those of undue influence over the ailing 93-year old were the subject of a court case by Redstone’s ex-companion Manuela Herzer – that ended in being tossed out on May 9 after just one day of testimony after a video of the mogul was played in closed court where he said he wanted Shari Redstone to be in charge of his heath care needs. With the Viacom civil war in full flight, the Herzer case has been refilled.
Today attorney’s for Redstone tried to put a halt on any new Herzer case and mocked the references to William Shakespeare’s King Lear in the new paperwork. “This is not theater,” said lawyers for Redstone, “Rather, it is about who Sumner Redstone wants to act as his agent and make his life-and-death health care decisions in the event he becomes incapable of making them on his own …Mr. Redstone no longer trusts Ms. Herzer.”
A hearing is set for July on the motion to re-start the Herzer matter.