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Not a seat is left empty in the 6th floor courtroom where judge David J. Cowan will decide if media mogul Sumner Redstone had the capacity necessary to kick longtime companion Manuela Herzer out of his home in October and strip her control of his healthcare directive, and if he has been unduly influenced by his inner circle.
Herzer and Redstone’s daughter Shari sit on opposite sides of the courtroom, in the first row behind their respective armies of attorneys.
Courthouse staff is running a tight ship. A dozen black, red and white signs with bold fonts decorate the packed room, warning those in the audience of the consequences of violating electronics rules.
No photography, no cell phones and no audio recording is allowed.
Members of the media are allowed to use computers for note-taking only, but no outside transmission is allowed. The penalty? The signs warn a violation will result in immediate removal from the room and further legal proceedings could also ensue.
There’s a tangible sense of urgency in the room.
Cowan opens by telling counsel they have performed commendably to this point and he expects that will continue, that they’ll keep the big picture in mind during their arguments.
“That picture is of an elderly man,” Cowan says. “The protection of his welfare is the only function of this case.”
Herzer’s attorney Pierce O’Donnell kicks off opening arguments by describing her relationship with Redstone as a modern day love story.
“There’s nothing he wouldn’t do for her, and she for him,” he says, adding that they were close “in a way that transcended intimacy.”
But 17 years of friendship “evaporated” without warning on October 12, and she felt compelled to launch this legal battle to spare him from the “virtual prison” of his Beverly Park mansion.
O’Donnell says the Redstone he saw this week during deposition was a “shell” of the man he used to be. He describes the mogul as having a haunting look and painful stare and says he was unable to answer even the simplest questions, which was “anguishing to watch and painful to hear.”
He says Redstone repeatedly called Herzer an expletive, which he didn’t say in court but shortened as “F.B.”
Herzer will be dragged though the mud in this trial, O’Donnell says, but her motives are pure. Yes, Herzer received money from Redstone. So what? So did dozens of women,” he says. “That was what Mr. Redstone did.”
Then Robert Klieger took the podium on behalf of Redstone’s camp, describing the mogul as someone who is universally feared, loved by some and reviled by others.
“Mr. Redstone does not tolerate lies,” Klieger says, and that’s why Redstone severed his relationship with Herzer.
He argues that it only makes sense if she’s not going to be in Redstone’s life, she shouldn’t be in control of his healthcare.
When Redstone learned his ex-girlfriend Sydney Holland had been cheating on him earlier last fall, he kicked her out and removed her from his directive.
“Nobody questions that decision,” Klieger says, but for some reason when he did the same to Herzer five weeks later, his capacity is being questioned. “Mr. Redstone knew exactly what he was doing.”
He argues that Herzer lied to Redstone to keep him from being close to his family and to other women in an effort to remain in control of his life.
While there is a history of family drama, Klieger says it’s a sideshow and he wants to limit discussion of most events prior to last fall.
“Everything in this case is a soap opera,” he says.
More to come from the trial.
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