Media mogul Sumner Redstone is incapacitated and needs a guardian ad litem to protect his interests in a current legal case, a judge determined Monday during a hearing in a long-running court dispute about the health of the controlling shareholder of CBS Corp. and Viacom Inc.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge David J. Cowan once again stopped short of making a determination on whether the 95-year-old billionaire is mentally competent.
Cowan said his ruling on whether Redstone was incapacitated was based on an opinion by Redstone’s doctor on the mogul’s dysarthria, a severe speech impediment. His physical ailment was enough to justify the determination.
Redstone remains chairman of National Amusements Inc., the Redstone family investment vehicle that holds the controlling stakes in Viacom and CBS. Redstone, whose health has been deteriorating for the last seven years, is rarely seen in public. Instead, a battalion of nurses and caregivers tend to his needs.
“The bottom line, essentially, is, the court is finding that Mr. Redstone is incapacitated — but not because he is incompetent,” Cowan said.
Redstone, in his limited capacity, consented to the determination.
Judges appoint a guardian ad litem when someone independent is needed to look out for the best interests of a disabled or elderly person or a child. Redstone’s attorney, Robert Klieger, said after the 50-minute hearing that the guardian’s representation would be limited to the court proceedings.
Cowan appointed Samuel D. Ingham III, a specialist in probate and estate planning matters whose law practice is based in downtown Los Angeles, to serve as Redstone’s guardian ad litem.
Ingham was recommended by attorneys who represent the Redstone family. The 1975 UCLA Law School graduate primarily handles cases involving conservatorships and trusts. Ingham did not respond to a request from The Times for comment.
Monday’s hearing came in litigation initially pursued by Manuela Herzer, one of Redstone’s former female companions. Once part of Redstone’s orbit, Herzer was kicked out of Redstone’s Beverly Park mansion in October 2015 and later written out of his estate plan. Herzer tried unsuccessfully to restore her standing as an agent for Redstone and secure a place in his will, which would put her in line for tens of millions of dollars from his estate. Forbes estimates Redstone’s wealth at $4.4 billion.
Herzer withdrew her lawsuit, but in April, Redstone filed his own petition to preserve changes made in May 2016 that removed Herzer from his trust. That change marked the 40th amendment to Redstone’s trust, which maps out his wishes about how his property should be divided and his empire run long after he is gone.
Herzer’s legal team challenged Redstone’s petition, contending that the mogul long ago lost his mental competence and that lawyers who surround him don’t really know what he wants. Herzer’s legal team, which has been trying for more than three years to get a judge to declare Redstone mentally incompetent, also opposed the motion for a guardian ad litem.
Until recently, Redstone’s attorneys maintained that Redstone used an iPad to communicate and to answer questions as long as they were boiled down into simple concepts.
The judge opened Monday’s hearing by disclosing that he had received an email hours earlier — at 1:38 a.m. — from a cousin of Redstone’s who had expressed an objection to the proceeding. In the email, which was reviewed by The Times, Redstone cousin Gary Snyder said that he had filed an elder-abuse report this year that alleged that Redstone’s former girlfriends had taken advantage of the mogul.
“Obviously, I have not responded to this,” Cowan told the attorneys who participated in the hearing. “There are ways to do this during business hours…. We’re open for business from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.”
Then, as the hearing was concluding, a man near the back of the courtroom raised his hand and asked to be heard. It was Snyder. The judge beckoned him to step forward.
“My email speaks for itself,” Snyder told the judge. Then he noted that none of Redstone’s close family members were in attendance. “I am the only blood relative of Mr. Redstone to find this court hearing worthy of my time,” Snyder said.
Outside the courtroom, Snyder acknowledged that he hadn’t seen Redstone for years. Still, he said, he was troubled that the only participants in the proceedings were eight attorneys, who represented the Redstone and Herzer sides.
“They were arguing about the estate of a man who is still alive,” Snyder said. “And in some way, Sumner is paying for all of this.”