Viacom Chief Ordered to Testify About Sumner Redstone's Mental Capacity

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 Los Angeles Superior Court judge on Monday allowed Sumner Redstone's former companion Manuela Herzer to depose Viacom chief Philippe Dauman.

Herzer won't immediately get a shot at having a doctor examine Redstone himself, but sworn testimony from Viacom's leader — the one making healthcare decisions for his boss — marks the latest twist in the saga concerning the 92-year-old billionaire media mogul. Her attorney Pierce O'Donnell told The Hollywood Reporter that he will question Dauman about Viacom's finances and how the company is operated, but that he cares mostly about Redstone's health.

Redstone's mental condition was put under a legal microscope on Thanksgiving eve when Herzer marched into court in an attempt to be put in charge of the healthcare decisions for the ailing Redstone. At a hearing in late November, a judge ruled there was no urgency to the situation and set a court date of Jan. 27 to consider Redstone's motion to dismiss Herzer's lawsuit. (That hearing date appears to now be pushed back to February.)

In advance of a judge's consideration on whether to dismiss the case, Herzer has sought to gather evidence in opposing dismissal of her lawsuit.

Herzer wanted a geriatric psychiatrist to interview Redstone for an hour. She submitted a declaration from a handwriting expert who believes Redstone’s signature on a healthcare directive was a “forgery.”

Herzer didn't get this today with a judge saying such an examination would only happen after the dismissal hearing. Herzer did, though, get some of her other discovery requests.

She wanted and was given permission to have Dauman face questioning over the Viacom chief's assessment that Redstone was "engaged and attentive" during a Nov. 3 visit to his house. (Herzer says it doesn't match her own recollection.)  While the judge agreed that Dauman should be deposed, it has also been acknowledged that Dauman is a resident of New York. As such, Herzer's side might have to bring action in a New York court in order to force the deposition. Today, the judge asked the two sides to work it out and advised that such a deposition should be fairly brief and stick to matters pertaining to Redstone's health care and not the management of Viacom.

Herzer will also get to depose Redstone's doctors.

Redstone's camp is at least cheering the fact that the 92-year-old won't be produced for questioning.

According to Gabrielle Vidal of Loeb & Loeb, representing Redstone, "We are pleased that the Court has once again rejected Ms. Herzer’s attempt to disrupt Mr. Redstone’s life. Today's ruling ensures that Mr. Redstone will be left in peace while the Court hears directly from his doctors that this proceeding is unnecessary. Ms. Herzer claims to want to protect Mr. Redstone when her every action demonstrates her disregard for his welfare. We are glad Mr. Redstone will be able to continue to enjoy the holiday season with his family and friends uninterrupted.”

"We are going to do this in phases," said O'Donnell after the hearing. "We are thrilled they didn't shut us down completely."

O'Donnell continued by slamming some of the others who have front-row seats to the controversy. He argued Herzer has Redstone's best interests at heart, more so than the nurse currently watching him or Shari Redstone, who he says has been suddenly "popping into the house."

As for Dauman, O'Donnell added, "He's a fine gentleman but he's in New York dealing with a market cap that has decreased by 50 percent."