Judge Rules Against Dismissing Sumner Redstone Health Lawsuit

Boston Beginnings
Christopher Patey

Redstone was born in a Boston tenement to a father who changed the family name from Rothstein to Redstone and built a regional movie-theater chain. After a short career as an attorney (he graduated from Harvard and Harvard Law), Redstone joined his father's company, National Amusements, in 1954. He became CEO in 1967 and steadily grew the company with profitable investments in studios.

A fight over Sumner Redstone's health condition is moving forward.

On Monday, Los Angeles Superior Court judge David Cowan denied a motion to dismiss Redstone ex-companion Manuela Herzer's petition to be reappointed his healthcare agent. What's more, the judge has set a trial date for all day on May 6 and May 9 and the afternoons of May 10 through May 12.

Herzer brought the lawsuit in probate court in November after being kicked out of the 92-year-old media mogul's home. She alleges that he is a "living ghost," and one who was unduly influenced by those around him. The litigation has provoked much discussion about the future of Viacom and CBS, the media companies owned by Redstone's National Amusements. Redstone recently resigned as executive chairman of both companies.

In response to Herzer's petition, Redstone's attorneys paint her as attempting to invade his privacy for financial reasons.

In the lead-up to the hearing, Herzer conducted wide-ranging discovery of Redstone's primary physician and nurses and included more about Redstone's mental condition in redacted filings. The Hollywood Reporter, the Los Angeles Times and Variety are attempting to intervene in the case to oppose the sealing. The judge has indicated that he will address these points at a hearing in mid-March.

The ruling is to deny the dismissal motion without prejudice, meaning that Redstone's camp can later re-try the gambit to knock this case out of court before trial. But it appears as though the judge wishes to weigh evidence by medical experts who are dueling over whether Redstone is of sound mind. 

"There is substantial 'controversy' in this unusual case where Redstone's capacity is in dispute," writes Cowan in his tentative ruling. "The factual issue here is evidently one of degree; i.e., whether the subcortical neurological disorder from which Redstone suffers is causing mild or moderate cognitive impairment; not the simpler question of whether there is or is not impairment. It will therefore be the Court's primary task at trial to determine which of these physicians most accurately states Redstone's mental status."

Importantly, the judge notes that a declaration from Dr. Richard Gold, Redstone's primary physician, isn't necessarily conclusive. Cowan also stated that it was unfortunate that there was no declaration from Redstone himself.

He adds, "In summary, if the motion is correct, Herzer has no business looking after Redstone. If the motion is wrong, Redstone will be free of the alleged undue influence of his daughter. Necessarily, the Court cannot determine the validity of these competing claims of motive without seeing the witnesses and hearing testimony."