We’ll have to keep waiting to find out whether Sumner Redstone will undergo an independent examination to determine if he’s competent to run his media empire.
Massachusetts Probate and Family Court Judge George Phelan adjourned today’s hearing in a case pitting Redstone against Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman without ruling on key issues. They include whether Massachusetts is the right venue for the dispute and, if it is, whether there’s reason to believe the mogul is unable to make reasonable decisions or is being manipulated by his daughter, Shari.
“I have a lot of information to digest,” the judge said. “Obviously I don’t know what the outcome is going to be.”
At issue is a motion by Redstone and his daughter to dismiss a challenge that Dauman and Viacom director George Abrams made to a May 20 decision ousting them from key positions in the family’s power structure.
Redstone replaced them on his seven-member family trust, which will vote his controlling stake in National Amusements when he can’t do so. The exhibition chain owns 80% of the voting shares in Viacom and CBS.
Dauman and Abrams say that Sumner, 93, is no longer competent to direct his own affairs, and is being manipulated by Shari. They want the court to have an independent doctor examine Viacom’s Chairman Emeritus.
Redstone’s team says that he’s still calling the shots, and any questions about his competence should be decided in California, where another case involving his competence was heard.
On May 9, California Superior Court Judge David Cowan dismissed a challenge Redstone’s former companion Manuela Herzer raised about his mental acuity without making a judgment.
Phelan questioned whether the evidence in that case reveals enough for him to say whether an exam is needed.
“I’m trying to figure out, even after having read [Cowan’s] decision, how he could have ruled that Sumner Redstone lost trust in Manuela Herzer without determining whether whether Sumner was competent to form a judgement of trust or non trust in Manuela,” Phelan said.
The judge also wanted to know how engaged Redstone is in daily life.
“He watches CNBC, he watches financial news,” Shari’s lawyer Elizabeth Burnett said. “He has some Paramount executives come over. He went to CBS recently. He is receiving information about his businesses from a lot of groups.”
The judge asked whether Redstone left his house to visit CBS.
“Oh, yeah,” Burnett said. “The idea that he’s a living ghost in his home may be a good soundbite but it’s not correct.”
Lawyer Pierre O’Donnell, who represents Herzer in California and Sumner’s granddaugher Keryn in Massachusetts, says that there’s a “selective and highly filtered transmittal of information to Sumner Redstone.”
The lawyer added that he had a “drive-by meet-and-greet” with Les Moonves.
“Who’s Mr. Moonves?” the judge asked about the CBS chief — the nation’s second highest paid CEO in 2015.
The judge also questioned the qualifications of the woman who interprets Redstone’s speech.
“I’m wondering if this speech therapist interpreting is a specialty that’s recognized in the medical community…What are her qualifications to interpret speech? Do those qualifications include interpreting speech of mentally impaired persons?”
Today’s proceedings were streamed by Courtroom View Network.
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