Judge rules Sumner Redstone trial will be open to the public

Sumner Redstone at a premiere in 2012.
(John Shearer / Invision / Associated Press)

A Los Angeles County judge on Wednesday denied a request by Sumner Redstone’s attorneys to bar the public from viewing certain portions of his healthcare trial.

The request by the ailing 92-year-old media mogul’s legal team to close portions of the trial, including testimony from doctors and his nurses, came two weeks before the May 6 trial that will determine whether the controlling shareholder of Viacom Inc. and CBS Corp. is mentally competent.

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The tentative ruling by Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge David J. Cowan was a victory for members of the media and investors who argued that the proceedings should be open to the public.

“In this country we have open trials,” Cowan said. “This is not Russia.”


He added that it is not “practical” to partially seal the trial as Redstone’s attorneys had sought to do, outlining a plan to limit portions of the trial that would involve ushering nonlawyers and others in and out of the courtroom when necessary.

Jean-Paul Jassy, a lawyer representing the Los Angeles Times and the Hollywood Reporter, had argued the plan submitted by Redstone’s lawyers would restrict the public’s right to attend the trial.

Cowan also assured that he intends to keep the trial from becoming sensationalistic.

“The court intends for this trial to be dignified and focus on the legal issues that are to be decided and not be distracted by things that would be undignified or injurious to the patient’s interest,” Cowan said. He acknowledged some “balance” would be required.

The trial was set in motion by Redstone’s ex-companion Manuela Herzer over who is Redstone’s healthcare agent. Herzer argues that Redstone lacked the mental competency to remove her from his advance healthcare directive last October.

Redstone’s attorneys contend the billionaire was fully aware of his actions to name Viacom’s chief executive, Philippe Dauman, as his healthcare agent. Earlier this month, Redstone made another change, naming his daughter, Shari, as the person to make his healthcare decisions.

In the course of the five-month lead-up to the trial, the billionaire’s lawyers have repeatedly sought to seal documents and depositions.

Wednesday’s hearing also saw Herzer’s lawyers make another move to have Redstone himself testify as witness in the upcoming trial.

A hearing is set for Monday afternoon to decide whether Redstone will give testimony.

Cowan also agreed that if the parties can pare down their witness lists, two additional days of trial (May 13 and 16) would be added.

“Do we need all these nurses?” Cowan said at one point.

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