Trial begins Friday morning in the very public, very ugly legal battle over control of media mogul Sumner Redstone’s health care.
The questions at issue are: Did Redstone have the capacity to throw longtime companion Manuela Herzer out of his Beverly Park mansion and then strip her control over his health care directive, and was he unduly influenced by those in his inner circle in doing so?
The court will hear what Redstone himself thinks about the situation on Friday via a pretaped video deposition. The 92-year-old mogul has not spoken publicly since his birthday bash last year. While the public won’t see the video, the transcript will be released, and that could provide some long-awaited insight as to what he thinks of the fight.
Herzer was ejected from Redstone’s home on Oct. 12, 2015, and the mogul signed a new directive putting Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman in control of his care on Oct. 16. She sued to regain control shortly thereafter, claiming Redstone is “a living ghost” and was brainwashed into doing it.
Redstone’s attorneys have painted her concern as financially motivated and claim she and the mogul’s ex-girlfriend Sydney Holland received a combined $150 million from him over the course of five years. Now that Judge David J. Cowan has found Herzer’s honesty and motives to be central to the case, team Redstone likely will call into question how that money was spent.
While it’s impossible to predict exactly what will happen at trial, briefs filed by attorneys for each side offer an outline of what to expect.
She says: Herzer’s attorneys, led by Pierce O’Donnell, claim she and Redstone had a long-standing and trusting relationship. While the two had not been romantically involved for more than a decade, O’Donnell says Redstone has described Herzer as the love of his life. She moved into his home in 2013 to oversee his care — and did so happily until she was kicked out in October “based almost exclusively on false and/or misleading information provided to Redstone by vulgar and morally corrupt nurses and other employees who carried a grudge against Herzer and wanted her gone.”
He says: Redstone’s attorneys, led by Gabrielle Vidal and Robert Klieger, say Redstone knew what he was doing, and his reasons were simple: “She deceived him, he found out about it, and he threw her out of the house. Period.” They also point to probate code that automatically revokes the designation of a spouse upon divorce and ask why it should be harder for someone who is unmarried to remove someone who is not his spouse.
Herzer’s expert says: Dr. Stephen Read will testify that Redstone “lacked the capacity or ability to overcome undue influence, fraud or manipulation” and didn’t understand the consequences of removing Herzer as his health care agent.
Redstone’s expert says: Dr. James Spar, who evaluated the mogul on that dubious October day, will testify that Redstone had the capacity to execute the directive.
While an 11th-hour settlement isn’t impossible, it doesn’t seem likely the parties will resolve the unidentified “snag” they hit in earlier deal talks or everything that has happened since.
Witnesses scheduled for Friday are: Sumner Redstone (via video deposition); Herzer’s medical expert, Dr. Stephen Read; the mogul’s granddaughter Keryn Redstone; and, if time allows, Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman (via video deposition).