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A Massachusetts probate judge has issued a series of questions in the lawsuit brought by Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman and George S. Abrams over their removal as Trustees of the Sumner M. Redstone National Amusement Trust.
The lawsuit was filed on May 23 after Dauman and Abrams were ousted from the entity that has voting control over Viacom and CBS. The complaint asserts that Shari Redstone is manipulating her father to take control — and is a piece of the massive litigation trail that explores Sumner Redstone’s competency at age 93, which also includes Redstone’s own lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court as well as actions in Delaware Chancery Court.
As to the questions from Judge George Phelan, they can pretty much be boiled into two categories.
The first and last question is a variation on the same topic: Does a Court have to find Sumner Redstone mentally incapacitated as a predicate to a finding of undue influence by Shari? If Sumner were not mentally incapacitated and had not been unduly influenced to do so by Shari, do the terms of the Trust authorize him to have removed the trustees for no reason?
The questions shouldn’t be taken as evidence of which way the judge is leaning in advance of a hearing on June 30, when he will decide whether to expedite Dauman’s lawsuit. The defendants are arguing that Dauman and Abrams have no standing and that the dispute belongs in California anyway.
It’s jurisdiction and under what state’s authority that comprise the bulk of the judge’s questioning.
Phelan also wants to know whether California or Massachusetts law applies to interpretations of the Trust including what constitutes mental incapacity, how each state defines such and how the language of the Trust as well as California vs. Massachusetts law deal with the issue of influence. Plus, he wants the parties to brief him on how other factors like administration of the Trust and Sumner’s age and limitations impact where this dispute should play out.
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