8:15am PT by Matthew Belloni, Eriq Gardner
Sumner Redstone Girlfriend Drops Lawsuit: Leak of Sexual Photos Averted
This story first appeared in the May 8 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
As Viacom and CBS Corp. strategize about a not-so-distant future without Sumner Redstone, the companies can breathe a sigh of relief that the 91-year-old executive chairman has put one potentially embarrassing legal dispute behind him — one that threatened to make public private photographs of a sexual nature, according to sources.
On April 21, a lawsuit brought in 2013 by Redstone's 44-year-old girlfriend Sydney Holland (pictured above with Redstone in 2013) against former MTV star Heather Naylor quietly was declared over in Los Angeles Superior Court. The dispute initially revolved around allegations that Naylor, who befriended Redstone and was tapped to star on the short-lived all-girl rock-band series The Electric Barbarellas on the Viacom-owned cable network, had conspired with staff at Redstone's Beverly Park estate — including Carlos Martinez, Redstone's longtime handler — to steal Holland's laptop computer containing "private and confidential" photos and information from the house Holland shares with Redstone. Holland, then represented by Marty Singer, demanded $1 million in damages from Naylor and the immediate return of the laptop.
The suit soon expanded when Naylor hired Neville Johnson, who filed cross-claims accusing a "jealous" Holland of taking the reins of the ailing Redstone's life "so that Holland could control Redstone for her own economic advantage." Naylor claimed Holland persuaded Redstone to fire longtime loyal staff (including Martinez, who also was sued) and interfered with Naylor's MTV series by telling her powerful boyfriend to pull his support, effectively killing the show. Most troubling for Viacom and CBS, Johnson began probing the intersection of Redstone's personal and professional lives, asking Holland whether she met Redstone on a Millionaire Matchmaker dating website, whether household staff was forced to take a "lie detector" test to maintain employment and whether Redstone had added Holland to his will.
The latter suggestion is especially sensitive because any change to his will by Redstone, who at various points has been at odds with daughter Shari and son Brent, could alter not just the dispensation of his assets but also the stakes in his two media companies. Redstone, whose health is said to be declining (he has missed recent earnings calls for CBS and Viacom), reportedly has picked his trustees, including Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman and Shari, 61, who will make decisions about the holding company National Amusements after his death. But there are questions about the role of Holland — who recently adopted a baby and is raising her at Redstone's mansion — in the will, if any. (And there are concerns over an estate-tax bill, which figures to be hefty. In fact, taxes remain the biggest open litigation item for Redstone, who still is fighting the IRS in court over a gift to his children to resolve an intrafamily lawsuit in 1972, around the time Holland was born.)
In the girlfriends' case, Judge Ernest Hiroshige ruled in September that Holland — by then represented by Patricia Glaser — was required to hand over documents and information to Naylor relating to the claim that Redstone was persuaded by Holland to sever business and personal ties to Naylor. Holland also was ordered to reveal evidence about questions posed during any polygraph exams conducted on Redstone employees (though she was not required to produce evidence relating to an affair she allegedly had with Grammy-winning music producer John Shanks).
Depositions in the case — including one of Redstone, never an official plaintiff or defendant, and even Viacom employees — were scheduled, disputed and delayed several times until February, when Naylor abruptly split with her attorney Johnson and backed off on her claims. On April 15, Holland's attorney Glaser requested a dismissal of the entire suit, avoiding a trial that had been set to begin May 20.
Neither side will disclose whether Naylor paid to settle the case or was paid by Redstone or Holland to go away. However, the settlement appears to prevent — at least for now (other plaintiffs could emerge) — the release of the "personal and confidential" photographs on the laptop or in the possession of Naylor or Martinez, who also was dropped as a defendant when the case settled.
Unlike Naylor, Martinez, who worked closely with Redstone for 13 years until he and his daughter abruptly were terminated and accused by Holland of participating in the theft of the laptop, never filed a cross-complaint against her. Presumably, Martinez would know as much as anyone about Redstone and his relationships with Holland and Naylor and could have received a settlement to keep quiet about what he knows and what embarrassing materials he might have in his possession.
"Carlos was not paid a penny in connection with Heather Naylor," says Glaser. But asked whether Martinez was paid anything at all by Redstone, Holland or even by Viacom, Glaser declines further comment. Martinez's attorney, Bryan Freedman when asked whether his client was paid by Redstone or Naylor, merely chuckles and, very deliberately, says, "The matter has been resolved."