4TH UPDATE, 3:39 PM: The trial over who controls Sumner Redstone’s health care could be over on Monday, according to the L.A. Superior Court judge in charge.
This afternoon, lawyers for Redstone said they want the trial tossed out on the first day. “Everyone agrees …that Manuela Herzer should not be Mr. Redstone’s health care agent,” said Loeb & Loeb attorney Gabrielle Vidal. “We ask this court to put his protection first and dismiss this now,” she added. The trial is scheduled to run until May 16.
While not ruling on the motion, Judge David Cowan on Friday asked lawyers for Herzer and Redstone to present evidence based on the strong statements made by Redstone in videotaped testimony played in closed court earlier today and the testimony of Dr. Stephen Read after that. (Read the deposition transcript here.)
“How can I sit here after listening to that video and say you can’t have what you want?” Cowan said, noting Redstone’s statement that he wanted Herzer out of his life and his daughter Shari Redstone to take over as his health care agent. “What evidence do I have that Mr. Redstone continues to be, if he ever was, unduly influenced?” asked the judge, who seemed from earlier today to be leaning towards pulling the plug on the matter.
The lawyers for both sides have been asked to give briefs to the judge over the weekend showing that Redstone “does not know what he is saying.”
Then again, Cowan has worries about the state of mind of the ex-Viacom boss, with concerns as to whether “Mr. Redstone appreciates what he is saying.” Cowan told the assembled lawyers that ”when someone has dementia they forget what has happened to them.
“This court does not want to drag out something unnecessarily but at the same time it does not want to deny people their day in court.”
Further testimony from Read continued today.
“If the relationship were to be severed, it would be rational for her not to be the health care agent,” the geriatric psychiatrist told the courtroom earlier this afternoon of Herzer and Redstone’s affiliation. The admission came during a sometimes contentious cross-examination of Read by Redstone attorney Robert Klieger this afternoon.
“In my opinion it would be hard,” Read later also admitted of Herzer being able to serve as Redstone’s health care agent again after all the bad blood that has emerged since last fall and the mogul’s vehement denunciation of her in his deposition of May 5.
(UPDATE 4:31 PM: The later part of the afternoon saw Joseph Octaviano taking the stand and admitting how back in 2104 and 2015 he secretly provided emails and other correspondence to Shari Redstone about her father’s care and his relationships with his then companions Sydney Holland and Manuela Herzer. Octaviano served as a vocational nurse for Redstone and was employed by him not his daughter.
“One of your jobs is not to eavesdrop on your employer and his live-in girlfriend right?” asked Herzer co-counsel Ronald Richards rhetorically. As various salacious details were inferred in the questioning, Octaviano responded that it in fact was his duty and allowed under the regulations to pass along information is “there is an abuse.” When asked why he clandestinely choose to send information to the younger Redstone, Octaviano said, “she is the daughter, she is family.”
The younger Redstone was allegedly seeking information against Holland and Herzer to potentially pursue legal action against the duo. Octaviano agreed that a large portion of his correspondence with her was about her father’s relationships and not his medical care.
The trial will continue on May 9 – or not if Judge Cowan decides to agree with Redstone’s lawyer’s motion to dismiss.)
3RD UPDATE, 11:51 AM: Testimony by a doctor who examined Sumner Redstone ahead of the mogul’s health care trial seemingly revealed that the 92-year-old is suffering from dementia. “He does have major neurological problems,” said Dr. Stephen Read on Friday in a downtown courtroom after a videotape deposition of Redstone was played in a closed court.
“He did not have the requisite mental capacity to understand the changing of his health care directive of October 16, 2015,” Read testified as the second witness of the trial, which began today in L.A. County Superior Court. Early on he said it was “painful” to see what a “very thin shadow” of his former self Redstone now is. The geriatric psychiatrist also said that based on his examination of the media mogul on January 29 of this year, he believes the “severely impaired” billionaire is suffering from features of moderate to high dementia. Read also said that Redstone has “short circuited” and impaired reasoning skills and suffers from delusions.
Less than a week after Read’s examination, Redstone resigned from his position as executive chairman at CBS, and dropped his executive chairman title at Viacom the day after that.
As a day-to-day example, Read described in his testimony how Redstone doesn’t actually know what teams are playing in the sports he watches on TV. The games are actually pre-recorded and the bets the elder Redstone makes with others are set up so that he always wins. According to Read, Redstone has no idea this set-up is occurring or that the games aren’t live.
Read is an expert for Redstone’s ex-companion and former health care agent Manuela Herzer. She brought the court challenge to being removed from Redstone’s health care directive in November of last year after being kicked out of the mogul’s home and life the month before.
“Evicting and taking Ms. Herzer out of the picture” had “potentially terrible effects on Mr. Redstone,” Read told the packed court. He added that, in his opinion, the ex-Viacom chief has little sense of the consequences of the actions against Herzer. “His memory was thrown out the widow,” he summarized, noting that Redstone has significant short-term and long-term memory issues.
Read described during his examination of Redstone that the mogul repeatedly accused Herzer of “stealing $40 million dollars from him” and “that everybody knows that.” The doctor also noted that in the January 29 session he often found Redstone hard to understand and that speech therapist Anne Lefton had to provide the equivalent of translation. According to Read, Redstone also insisted that he left Herzer $15 million in his trust, not the $50 million that was stated in documents.
Responding to questioning from attorney Pierce O’Donnell and with various charts on the screen behind him at times, Read additionally noted that the often quick-to-anger and “porous” Redstone is unduly under the influence of those around him. He offered that the “severely disabled” Redstone is suffering from a severe form of palsy, speech impairment and a throat disorder among other ailments. The “uncontrollable outbursts of anger” display an unstable “emotional state,” Read concluded.
With that said, if tales of Redstone over the decades are anywhere near accurate, outbursts of anger and making strong demands upon others have been a pattern for the former Viacom and CBS boss for a long time.
The trial is set to run until May 16.
2ND UPDATE, 10:14: AM: The transcript (read it here) of Sumner Redstone’s videotaped deposition in his health care trial was made available after the tape was shown in a closed courtroom this morning. In a 15-minute sit-down with lawyers from both sides of the health care trial underway beginning today in L.A. Superior Court, Redstone, with the help of an interpreter, answered questions about his relationship with Herzer and who should be his health care representative, matters at the heart of the trial.
Redstone, in response to questions from Herzer lawyer Pierce O’Donnell, called Herzer a “f**king bitch” several times throughout the deposition, taken Thursday morning at his Beverly Hills home. He also was asked by his own attorney, Gabrielle Vidal, who should be his health care representative. Redstone responded, “Shari” — referring to his sometimes-estranged daughter Shari Redstone. He also said he was satisfied with the health care he has been receiving.
After the video was shown and the court was re-opened, Judge David Cowan said Redstone has “given some strong testimony.” He added “your burden now is a hard one” to lawyers for Herzer and then grilled O’Donnell: “I want to know why that testimony shouldn’t be respected at the end of the day.”
UPDATE, 9:31 AM: “Lost to us is the titan of the media world,” attorney Pierce O’Donnell said today in the opening arguments of the Sumner Redstone health care trial. “He was unable to answer even the simplest questions,” the Greenberg Glusker Fields Claman & Machtinge lawyer said of his 15-minutes deposition of Redstone at his home on Thursday. Saying Redstone repeatedly called his ex-companion and plaintiff Manuela Herzer an offensive name, O’Donnell said, “I left his home profoundly disturbed.”
In his remarks in L.A. Superior Court this morning, O’Donnell said evidence will show Redstone has a “major” neurological impairment that effects memory, creates delusions and more. His “mind feeble and his body ravaged by age,” the attorney said in summary of the state of the 92-year-old.
Citing “unethical and immoral” actions by Redstone’s family and staff, a “circle of deceit” and “sabotaged” love,” the lead lawyer for Redstone’s ex-health care agent Herzer added, “My client has come to this court to protect” Redstone as the sole cause of this case. “Sumner as recently as yesterday called Manuela the love of his life,” O’Donnell added, alluding to the videotaped deposition scheduled to be played in private in court today.
“The motive was to get rid of Manuala by any means because she was a barrier to [daughter] Sheri [Redstone] taking control of his health and his media empire,” O’Donnell said of the “coup” that resulted in Herzer being kicked out of Redstone’s home last October, soon after she was removed as his health care agent and removed from receiving nearly $70 million in money and real estate in his will. “The evidence will show Sumner asked Manuela to protect him.” Added O’Donnell, “one person is unfit to be the health care agent, and that is Sheri Redstone.”
O’Donnell predicted that Redstone’s lawyers will try to “drag my client through the mud” because of millions the mogul gave her and his other companion Sydney Holland over the years. “Yes, he gave her money, he gave lots of women money, that’s what Sumner Redstone did.”
“Mr. Redstone does not tolerate lies,” said the mogul lawyer’s Robert Klieger in his opening statement. Klieger made clear that his side will argue that Sumner Redstone knew exactly he was doing when he changed his health care directive last October and made Viacom CEO and Chair Philippe Dauman in charge of his health matters if he was unable to do so himself. “We intend to be focused on that document and that document alone in this trial,” the attorney said.
“Ms. Herzer also tricked Mr. Redstone,” Klieger said over and over his argument, going into detail about jostling among the mogul’s intimates for influence and access to his affections.
“Everything in this case is a soap opera,” he said almost off the cuff about the factions in Redstone’s life. The lawyer then noted that the video from Redstone’s deposition will show that while the speech-impaired mogul “has profound difficultly communicating,” he “does not have a problem comprehending.”
PREVIOUS, 8:15 AM: With no last-minute settlement materializing, the trial over who controls Sumner Redstone’s health care and the state of the media mogul’s mental capacity begins today in downtown L.A. More than six months after Redstone’s former companion Manuela Herzer dragged the issue into the courts, this morning’s proceedings will include 15- to 30-minute video testimony from the ex-Viacom boss himself.
If at the end of the weeklong non-jury trial L.A. County Superior Court Judge David Cowan finds the 92-year-old Redstone lacked the competency to change his health care arrangements last fall, a cascade of corporate consequences could ensue. Even though he resigned from ostensibly running Viacom and CBS earlier this year, the ailing Redstone still controls 80% of the voting shares at the media giants and hence an estimated $40 billion in media assets.
Today’s video testimony, taken from the long-fought-over deposition Redstone was ordered to give in his home Thursday to Herzer’s lead attorney Pierce O’Donnell, will only be seen be a select few. On May 2, when ordering the deposition, Cowan also ruled that the court shall be closed for the playing of the video showing the 92-year billionaire. Only Cowan, O’Donnell, Bert Fields and others from Herzer’s Greenberg Glusker Fields Claman & Machtinge legal team, Redstone’s attorneys Gabrielle Vidal and Robert Klieger and others from Loeb & Loeb, and sometimes-estranged daughter Shari Redstone are allowed in the courtroom. A transcript of the testimony is expected to be provided immediately afterward when the trial is re-opened to the public.
Herzer is among those that arrived in court this morning.
The mental state of the elder Redstone and his competency has been at the heart of the matter ever since Herzer first filed suit last November. That move came after she was booted out of Redstone’s Beverly Hills home, dropped from a $70 million payout of cash and real estate in his will, and replaced by Viacom chairman and CEO Philippe Dauman as the person who is enabled to make medical decisions for the mogul if he can’t for himself. Calling Redstone a “living ghost,” Herzer has alleged that the billionaire didn’t want the changes made and may not have even independently signed the required documents.
Before the playing of the taped Redstone testimony this morning, opening arguments from both sides will be heard. Other witnesses expected today include Redstone’s granddaughter Keryn Redstone, who earlier in the case unsuccessfully tried to formally join Herzer’s side; and Dr. Stephen Read, a psychiatrist on Herzer’s side who examined Redstone in late January. Today could also see testimony from Dauman via video from a deposition he gave last month in New York to Greenberg Glusker’s Fields.
The trial is set to run until May 16 with Herzer, Redstone’s other former companion Sydney Holland, various medical professionals and household staff, and Shari Redstone also scheduled to be called as witnesses.
“This trial deal with issues that all of us, regardless of our fame or fortune, will face someday,” O’Donnell told Deadline before the start of trial today. “The evidence will show that in ousting his longtime friend and confidante Manuela as his health care agent, Sumner was mentally incapacitated and manipulated and deceived by his nursing staff in concert with his conniving daughter.” The lawyer added: “Manuela is the genuine advocate for Sumner’s welfare.”
Ironically, this spectacle, which both Hollywood and Wall Street are watching carefully, almost didn’t happen. In settlement talks between the two sides last month, Herzer was to receive around $30 million to end the case and Shari Redstone was set to take over from Dauman as her father’s health care agent. That all came crashing down when things hit an “impasse,” in the words of O’Donnell, and fell apart in mid-April. The younger Redstone was a big proponent of an agreement with Herzer and paying her out the lump sum, sources told Deadline at the time. Since those talks collapsed, it has been one hearing after another in Cowan’s downtown courtroom as both sides seemed set on a trial.
Redstone’s Loeb & Loeb lawyers have argued from the beginning that the mogul knew exactly what he was doing, and signing, when he booted out Herzer last October and removed her as his health care agent soon afterward. They have added weight to that of late by claiming, among other monetary allegations, that Herzer expressed no concerns about the neurological state of Redstone in September 2015 when he made her his solo health care agent after the end of his relationship with Holland.
As they reinforced in filings Thursday that claimed Herzer and Holland received around $150 million from the mogul over the last five years, Team Redstone has held to the line that Herzer is only really after money. Wanting to investigate those motivations in this trial, and granted by Cowan on May 5, they contend that if Herzer cared for Redstone as much as she claims, she would not be submitting him and his private affairs to such a public spotlight.
Still, concerns about Redstone’s capacity were seeming expressed in an email from an estate planning attorney for the mogul back in April 2015 as Herzer and Holland were part of a Vanity Fair article about them and Redstone.
Also, more recently, a timeline seemed to suggest Redstone and/or his team’s concerns about his personal health and his corporate standing. After submitting to a court-ordered medical examination by Read in January, the National Amusements Inc. owner resigned from his position as executive chairman at CBS on February 3, with Les Moonves replacing him soon afterward, in a clear attempt to avoid further corporate controversy. The next day, Redstone dropped his executive chairman title at Viacom with Dauman voted in to the job by the board over the objections of Shari Redstone.
Cowan has said previously that he does not want this trial to turn into a history of Redstone family feuding. However, with the participants and stakes in play, expect some of exactly that to happen over the next week.