Massachusetts Judge Calls On Redstones To Settle Family Dispute Privately

Sumner Redstone Shari Redstone
Todd Williamson/Invision for LA friendly House/AP Images

Massachusetts Probate and Family Court Judge George Phelan asked lawyers for Sumner Redstone, his daughter Shari Redstone and granddaughter Keryn Redstone to try to work out a deal with remediation to resolve disputes over Keryn’s role in the family and its trust.

The 93-year-old mogul “may not have that much time on this earth, but many of the others involved certainly do,” the judge said. “If we can resolve this in a way that provides some comfort for Sumner, for Keryn and the rest of the parties in the litigation might, in some way, create an inroad into defrosting the relationships. That would be a win-win.”

The judge asked lawyers to tell him this afternoon whether their clients would agree to the terms, putting on hold Keryn Redstone’s lawsuit. She wants to determine whether Sumner is mentally competent to manage his affairs. In addition, she wants assurances that she won’t be frozen out by a seven-member trust that will control his fortune and media assets when he’s deemed unable to do so.

He did not rule immediately on a request by lawyers for former Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman and director George Abrams who asked to have their clients dismissed from the case following their agreement last week to withdraw a suit they raised at the Massachusetts court.

That also appeared to leave hanging Phelan’s proposal to have Dauman and Abrams stipulate in an affidavit that they now believe that Sumner is competent to manage his trust and businesses. They originally challenged his mental capacity to decide for himself in May to oust them from the trust and the board of National Amusements, which owns 80% of Viacom’s voting shares.

Lawyers pointed to language in the settlement, which Dauman and Abrams accepted, saying that all parties — including Sumner Redstone — accepted the deal with their free will and without undue influence.

“I’m not sure ‘free will’ is the same thing as not mentally incapacitated,” Phelan said.

Their lawyer said he would check. Responding to a question from the bench, he denied that they settled because they had learned something new about Redstone’s condition.

Keryn’s lawyer, Pierce O’Donnell, vigorously supported the request for an affidavit. “An incompetent Mr. Redstone cannot bless a settlement” with Dauman and Abrams, he said. “The evidence will show that Mr. Redstone doesn’t have a clue what’s in that settlement.”

He tried to persuade Phelan to approve a process to have Sumner Redstone deposed soon — in time for a trial that was originally planned for September.

Sumner’s lawyer said that Keryn’s case raises different issues from the one that Dauman and Abrams withdrew last week, and the scope needed to be clarified before putting the his client through the rigor of a deposition.

There’s no need to rush, he added: Redstone “is not in a degenerative state” and there’s “no reason to believe [he] will not still be with us for the duration of this case on any reasonable schedule.”

The hearing was live streamed by Courtroom View Network.

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