The public and the press have a constitutional right to access to civil court records, and the case surrounding media mogul Sumner Redstone’s health is no exception, according to an opposition to seal records in his case filed Friday on behalf of The Hollywood Reporter and Los Angeles Times.
Redstone, the frail 92-year-old former chairman of Viacom and CBS, is at the center of a suit brought by former companion Manuela Herzer over control of his health care. She alleges Redstone is a “living ghost” and is not mentally competent to make decisions regarding himself and his companies. Representatives of Redstone and his companies, as well as Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman, have argued that Redstone is lucid and able to make decisions, including his move last fall to eject Herzer from his life and his Beverly Park mansion.
Earlier this month, Redstone attorneys filed two motions to seal records in the case to protect the mogul’s privacy. But in the opposition filing, THR and L.A. Times attorney Jean-Paul Jassy argues that the shield of privacy is being used to deny access to information crucial to Viacom/CBS shareholders and the public interest. The opposition argues there hasn’t been a case of this magnitude of public interest since that of William Randolph Hearst four decades ago.
“This case presents another once-in-a-generation opportunity to learn how and why the probate courts serve the public,” Jassy writes.
Redstone is one of the most influential media figures in half a century, Jassy argues, and the court decisions surrounding him are important not only to the public interest but also “the thousands of employees at his companies, to the multitude of shareholders and pension funds who invest in those companies.”
Jassy says Redstone’s attorneys have not met the burden to justify sealing the records. To meet that burden, according to Jassy, the court would have to establish the following: There exists an overriding interest that overcomes the right of public access to the record; the overriding interest supports sealing the record; a substantial probability exists that the overriding interest will be prejudiced if the record is not sealed; the proposed sealing is narrowly tailored; no less restrictive means exist to achieve the overriding interest.
“All records, and portions of records, that would not substantially impair Mr. Redstone’s privacy interests should be open to immediate public access, and any other records, if there are any, should be redacted and only sealed temporarily in a narrowly tailored way to leave the maximum amount of the records open to public access,” Jassy writes in the opposition.
The opposition also states that Redstone’s attorneys designated documents as confidential without good cause and asked the court to modify its protective order to limit the designation of confidential documents “only upon a showing of good cause with specific facts warranting protection.”
Freedman & Taitelman LLP filed a similar opposition Friday on behalf of Variety Media.
A hearing to decide these issues, and a motion to dismiss, is set for Monday morning. Redstone attorney Gabrielle Vidal did not immediately respond to a request for comment.