The legal battle over control of Sumner Redstone’s healthcare pits privacy against public interest, and in a Wednesday afternoon hearing, the court tilted the balance toward the latter.
Judge David J. Cowan has ruled the trial will be open to the public.
“In this country we have open trials,” Cowan said. “This is not Russia.”
Redstone’s attorneys asked the court to deny public access to certain portions of the trial, in an effort to maintain some semblance of privacy for the mogul amid a very public, very ugly legal battle that he didn’t start.
In past hearings, Cowan has acknowledged the fact that Redstone didn’t ask for this and has repeatedly expressed concern that the proceedings should not “unnecessarily impinge on Redstone’s privacy or dignity.”
The attorneys representing Manuela Herzer, Redstone’s former companion who sued to regain control of his healthcare directive after being booted from his estate last fall, argued that shutting the public out of this process would be unconstitutional.
While some of the trial testimony may be uncomfortable, Cowan said, he won’t be shy about stopping people from crossing unnecessary lines during proceedings.
“Nobody wants to see this trial to degenerate into things that we don’t need to hear about,” said the judge. “Understand from the outset that I’m not going to be happy if we deviate from that.”
Earlier in the hearing, Cowan sided with Redstone’s camp in deciding to quash the testimony of several potential medical witnesses.
“On the five motions to quash relating to the subpoenas to custodians of medical records, the court’s tentative is to grant all five motions,” said the judge. “The court believes these are all confidential medical records.”
After some discussion, Cowan made that tentative ruling permanent.
Before the hearing, Herzer’s attorney Pierce O’Donnell issued the following statement: “As we state in our papers, ‘sunlight is the best disinfectant’ and it is in Mr. Redstone’s interest that his competency be evaluated in an open trial rather than behind closed doors.”
Herzer’s attorneys also have served Redstone with a notice to appear at trial.
“Recent developments in this case have made it clear that Mr. Redstone should not be kept in seclusion, away from the trial, but should have the opportunity to speak directly to the Court, and that the Court would benefit from hearing directly from Mr. Redstone,” said O’Donnell’s statement. “That Mr. Redstone’s purported attorneys so vehemently oppose letting the Court speak to Mr. Redstone directly itself speaks volumes.”
A hearing is set for Monday afternoon to decide whether Redstone will give testimony.
The trial is set to begin on May 6, and Cowan agreed if the parties can pare down their witness lists he’ll give them two additional days of trial. Those days would be May 13 and May 16.
In order to save time, the judge also decided to bifurcate the trial in terms of the two directives that are now at issue. The updated directive created earlier this month will be off the table, and the trial will only focus on Redstone’s capacity and whether he was unduly influenced in regard to the October directive, which was the document that inspired Herzer’s petition.