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Judge may toss Sumner Redstone lawsuit filed by ex-girlfriend

Judge may toss Sumner Redstone lawsuit filed by ex-girlfriend
Sumner Redstone, shown in 2013, testified by videotaped deposition as his mental competency trial began Friday. (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)

Sumner Redstone became his own star witness Friday, appearing in Los Angeles Superior Court via a videotaped deposition to blast his former companion Manuela Herzer and her attempt to gain authority over his health care.

"I hate her," the 92-year-old Redstone said, according to a transcript of the deposition recorded Thursday and played in court Friday. A few minutes later, he added "I want Manuela out of my life."

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Redstone's mental competence has been at issue for months. But after hearing the testimony, Superior Court Judge David J. Cowan said he would use the weekend to seriously consider a request by Redstone's lawyers to dismiss the case.

"What evidence do you have to rebut the testimony that I just heard?" Cowan asked Herzer's attorney, Pierce O'Donnell. "I had said that Mr. Redstone would be the best witness, and he has given some strong testimony. I don't know why that testimony should not be respected."

O'Donnell told the judge that he recognized "how high the mountain" was for him to climb. He said he intended to provide evidence that Redstone had been hoodwinked by people in his inner circle who sought to freeze Herzer out of Redstone's life and home. But Cowan was not convinced.

"Your burden now is a hard one," Cowan told O'Donnell. "I'm not sure I need to hear all about these shenanigans that did, or did not, occur six months ago."

Herzer is claiming that the fiery billionaire is mentally incompetent and no longer able to make his own decisions. If Herzer's attorneys can prove that Redstone lacks capacity, there could be a change in control at the two companies Redstone controls, Viacom and CBS.

The Redstone family holds nearly 80% of the voting shares in the two companies, and if Redstone dies or becomes incapacitated, seven trustees, including the mogul's daughter Shari Redstone, would take over decision-making authority over Redstone's stock holdings.

The two companies are valued at $42 billion and include such assets as CBS, Showtime, MTV, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon and the Paramount Pictures movie studio in Los Angeles.

I hate her ... I want Manuela out of my life.


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Redstone's testimony came after repeated attempts over several months by Herzer's attorneys to question him. But Redstone's lawyers objected to each request, and the judge refused to force Redstone to testify -- until this week.

On Monday, Cowan had a change of heart and said that he needed to hear from Redstone himself so that he could figure out which side was most credible. Cowan ordered Redstone to submit to a deposition that lasted 18 minutes, with questions from both sides.

The judge cleared his court room when the videotape of the deposition was played Friday in an attempt to preserve Redstone's dignity, and spare him further embarrassment of having members of the public and media glean images of the elderly man as he struggled to speak.

The case has brought a number of sordid details about Redstone into public view, including his reliance on a feeding tube and details about his appetite for sex.

Coverage of the case, and investor concerns, also prompted Redstone to step down as executive chairman of the two media companies.

A transcript of Redstone's deposition, which included the mogul's profanities and an exchange in which his interpreter asked for his dentures to be adjusted, was provided after the videotape played behind closed doors.

When asked whether he knew who Herzer was, the former Viacom chairman said: "Manuela is a [two-word expletive]."

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The case has cast a harsh light on the messy relationships in Redstone's life, including a string of former girlfriends and even testy disputes with members of his own family.

Redstone and his daughter, Shari Redstone, battled over the years about business affairs, including expanding the family's chain of movie theaters. Shari Redstone testified in court documents that she become more isolated from her father when Herzer and another former girlfriend, Sydney Holland, were controlling his day-to-day affairs.

The courtroom was packed with spectators. Among them was Shari Redstone, wearing a gray suit, sat in the first row, flanked by her son, Brandon Korff, and her attorney from Boston, Elizabeth Burnett. Herzer sat with her attorneys on the opposite side of the room. She wore a crisp black suit and was accompanied by lawyers, friends and family members.

Redstone, in court papers filed Thursday, acknowledged lavishing $150 million in gifts — several homes, exquisite clothing and Paris getaways — on Herzer and Holland over a five-year period that abruptly ended last fall when the mogul kicked the women, one after the other, out of his Beverly Park mansion.

As the lawyers spoke, photos of Redstone's former girlfriends were displayed on a video screen.

"Mr. Redstone is someone who craves companionship, and he does not want to be alone," his attorney, Robert Klieger, said during opening statements. "He was loved by some, reviled by others. But there is one thing that Mr. Redstone does not tolerate and that is lies."

The trial was expected to last seven days. O'Donnell opened his remarks by saying that he will demonstrate that Redstone's nurses and Shari Redstone were behind a plot to rid his longtime friend, and former lover, Herzer from his life.

"Your Honor, this is a modern-day love story ... and in a blink of an eye -- 48 hours -- 17 years of friendship just evaporated...her soul mate had been ripped from her," O'Donnell said. "Lost to us was the titan of the media world."

I'm not sure I need to hear all about these shenanigans that did or did not occur six months ago. We need to focus on what this man wants now.


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Dr. Stephen Read, a geriatric psychiatrist, testified on Herzer's side. Read, who examined Redstone in late January, said Redstone "did not have requisite capacity" to make decisions about his medical care, and that he was "extremely vulnerable to undue influence" from the people around him.

"The Mr. Redstone we have today is a very very thin shadow of who he was," said Read.He said that Redstone exhibits features of dementia that are "toward the severe end of moderate."

Read also said that Redstone is prone to outburstsof anger that impairs his thinking and that he has "grave difficultly" swallowing.He said Redstone was unable to indentify different colored shapes on a white board when asked to do so.

"To my dismay, Mr. Redstone was able with no reliability to point to a particular shape and color," he said, holding up the white board with colored shapes including a red star. "In my opinion, he does have a major neurological disorder."

The trial opened early Friday drew more than a dozen reporters, so many that there were not enough seats available in Cowan's small courtroom. Court clerks hauled stacks of additional chairs into the room.

Just before the proceeding began, an assistant wheeled in a cart that was heaped with 15 boxes stuffed with documents.

Shari Redstone flashed a quick smile when she emerged from the court room at lunch. When asked what she thought of her father's performance, she smiled and told a reporter: "You know that I can't say anything."

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Times Staff Writer Yvonne Villarreal contributed to this report

UPDATES:

4:56 p.m.: This post has been updated throughout.

12:41 p.m. : This post has been updated with additional comments.

10:45 a.m.: This post has been updated with new information.

This post was originally published at 10:13 a.m.

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