Massachusetts Probate and Family Court Judge George Phelan will wait until the end of this month to rule on Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman’s challenge to controlling shareholder Sumner Redstone’s competence — although he may decide before then to let lawyers begin the formal information gathering process.
The judge closed a two-and-a-half hour hearing today saying that he’s grappling with the idea “of billions with a ‘B’.”
Dauman and Viacom director George Abrams asked the court to conduct an expedited trial to determine whether Redstone, 93, was competent to govern his own affairs on May 20 when he fired the execs from his family trust and the board of National Amusements.
The seven-member trust will vote Redstone’s controlling stake in the theater chain if he’s found to be incompetent. National Amusements owns about 80% of the voting shares in Viacom and CBS.
Redstone’s lawyers say that the case shouldn’t be heard in Massachusetts since he lives in California, where a court just considered– and declined to rule on — a case involving his competence. They add that a geriatric psychiatrist found Redstone to be competent on the day he ousted Dauman and Abrams.
In addition, they say that Dauman and Abrams lack standing to sue: Even if Redstone is found to be incompetent, four of the seven directors voted to replace them.
They have a June 16 to move to dismiss the case.
Dauman and Abrams want an independent expert to examine Redstone. They charge that he’s being manipulated by his daughter, Shari, who’s President of National Amusements and Vice Chair of Viacom and CBS. They also say that the members of the family trust don’t have the authority to vote off other trustees.
Judge Phelan’s decision today to postpone a ruling on the process appears to be “a partial setback” for Dauman, says Darren Oved who’s Chairman of the Litigation Department at Oved & Oved. “It’s not giving him what he wanted…It’s a bit surprising. Usually a court is ready to make a decision, especially where time is of the essence.”
Sumner Redstone’s grandaughter, Keryn, is supporting Dauman and Abrams. In a court filing yesterday, she submitted a statement from lawyer Pierce O’Donnell who had represented the paterfamilias’ former girlfriend Manuela Herzer in the California case challenging his competence.
The lawyer said that at a deposition last month, Redstone resembled “a wax figurine at Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum, but not as robust and healthy looking as those figurines.”