A very public lawsuit over some very private matters involving a 92 year old man came to an abrupt halt in a Los Angeles courtroom in the second day of trial. At issue was whether Sumner M. Redstone is competent to make decisions as to who should or shouldn’t be able to make medical decisions for him.
Though this kind of case is not uncommon what sets this particular case apart is that Redstone is the billionaire chairman emeritus of Viacom and CBS. Redstone was deposed (he gave sworn testimony in response to questions from attorneys from both sides of the case) for thirty minutes last week, according to the New York Times, and the trial started last Friday. The deposition was videotaped and a transcript was made public.
Redstone’s ex-girlfriend Manuela Herzer filed the lawsuit last November claiming Redstone,
- Lacks the mental capacity to make decisions concerning his health care, and
- Can’t speak coherently or care for himself.
Herzer reportedly had a sixteen-year long relationship with Redstone which came to an end last October after she was the subject of a magazine article with another of Redstone’s former interests. Herzer had been in charge of managing Redstone’s mansion and was his personal representative for his advanced healthcare directive.
After Herzer’s split with Redstone, Herzer was replaced as the manager of his mansion and a new medical directive was created with Redstone’s daughter Shari Redstone as his new personal representative. Herzer was also taken out of Redstone’s estate plans, which would have left her his $20 million mansion and $50 million after his death, according to the New York Times.
Herzer filed the lawsuit in response alleging that Redstone lacked the mental capacity to execute a new directive. Redstone’s attorneys denied her allegations and claimed the lawsuit’s true goal is to gather evidence to be used in trust litigation after Redstone’s death.
The trial got off to a bad start for Herzer on Friday, May 6, reports Bloomberg, with Redstone stating in the deposition he hated her and wanted her out of his life. Though Redstone had difficulty speaking when asked if he wanted Herzer to make his health care decisions, Redstone repeatedly responded with vulgar name calling and clearly stated “Shari” after being asked who should be responsible for his health care, according to CNN Money.
Judge David J. Cowan of Los Angeles Superior Court watched the video of the deposition and seemed impressed by Redstone’s testimony, calling it “strong evidence” of Redstone’s competence. He dismissed the case the following Monday. He stated he heard from Redstone he didn’t trust Herzer, wanted her out of his life and for Shari to make decisions for him if necessary. “Redstone is presumed to have capacity and Herzer’s expert did not establish that he lacked capacity to change his agent,” the judge wrote, “The court has no business interfering with his prerogatives.”
This is not the end of the matter. Herzer’s attorney told the press they will appeal the decision. Another lawsuit was filed on Monday by Herzer against Shari Redstone, her sons, Redstone’s nurses and up to 50 unnamed people claiming $70 million in damages. The legal action claims defendants intentionally destroyed “Herzer’s special relationship with Sumner and causing Sumner to disinherit her, thereby losing her $70 million inheritance.”
Ideally lawsuits involving competency issues can be resolved between the parties without having to resort to the time, expense and stress of litigation. This is especially true when the person at issue, who may or may not be mentally competent, may have serious physical or psychiatric problems which may be worsened by the stress of the case.
If you would like further information on how to resolve potential conflicts between family members concerning the mental competence of a loved one, contact our experienced lawyers at Timothy Rice Estate and Elder Law.