UPDATED: The testimony was halting, sometimes off point and lasted less than half an hour, but Sumner Redstone told a Los Angeles court via videotape Friday that he wants his one-time “true love,” Manuela Herzer, out of his life, and for his daughter, Shari Redstone, to oversee decisions about his health care, if he is not able.
Redstone punctuated his disdain for Herzer during the session with lawyers by five times calling her “a f—ing bitch,” the transcript showed. “She lied to me,” Redstone said, when asked why he had forced Herzer out of his home last October. Those lies involved Herzer misleading him about two of his other some-time paramours, Terry Holbrook and Sydney Holland, Redstone suggested.
Redstone’s videotaped deposition was played in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom at the start of a trial delving into whether the chairman emeritus of CBS and Viacom should continue to control his own affairs, particularly his medical care. A 21-page summary of his half-hour session with lawyers was released to the media, which was barred from the courtroom while the video played.
The mogul directed his fury at Herzer, 52, more than five months after she first went to court to try to get herself re-instated as his health care agent — the person empowered to make decisions about his care, should he become incapacitated. Redstone’s staff and one of his lawyers had thrown her out of his Beverly Park mansion on Oct. 12, accusing her of lying in an attempt to control the nonagenarian.
The transcript paints a picture of a frail man, who has trouble hearing questions and answering them, but occasionally erupts with the kind of temper for which he became famous as he built a media empire. The testimony was difficult, pausing once while the nonagenarian’s dentures were adjusted. He spoke with the prompting of a speech therapist and also had printed letters available to help him spell out answers — though it appeared he did not avail himself of that aid.
Redstone’s longest answers under direct examination were a handful of words. Queried whether he had once called Herzer the “love of his life,” he responded “Yes.” Asked by Herzer attorney Pierce O’Donnell if he still loved Herzer, Redstone again answered with one word: “No.” The attorney also asked the frail 92-year-old businessman whether Herzer stole money from him. He answered “Yes,” but when pressed to disclose how much she stole, he could not say. When the speech therapist encouraged him to use a chart to specify a number, Redstone still did not respond.
O’Donnell asked repeatedly for details about how Herzer cared for him during the years she lived at his mansion. But Redstone responded only with the vulgarity. When asked a more basic question — what his birth name was before the family changed it to Redstone — the magnate also did not answer. Queried by O’Donnell about when a photo of him and Herzer was taken, he again became combative, snapping “Who cares?”
Redstone did not waste any time during his Friday morning session at his Beverly Park estate in striking a combative tone. “Who is Manuela Herzer?” asked O’Donnell in the first question of the morning. “She is — Manuela is — a f—ing bitch,” the billionaire retorted. He gave a similar response when asked to specify exactly what Herzer did to care for him and, again, when asked why he had never explained to her why she was being thrown out of his home.
A lawyer for the magnate said in an opening statement to the court that Redstone’s behavior today reflects who he has always been — a strong-willed man, who will not stand for lies and who is fully capable of making decisions for himself. Attorney Robert Klieger said Redstone clearly understood what he was doing when he ejected Herzer from his home last October and his comments on it since then.
In his brief testimony, Redstone also acknowledged that he had been seeing his family lately (after a period of estrangement, which he was not asked about.) Asked how he felt about having his relatives back in his life, he responded: “I feel good about it.”
The testimony from Redstone marked his first public declaration on the furor over his status, which has swept waves of controversy over his family members, former lovers and top corporate associates, particularly Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman. Each side has accused the other of manipulating the man who built a media empire valued at more than $5 billion from his family’s Boston theater chain.
In his own opening remarks, O’Donnell offered an alternative explanation for Redstone’s sharp rebuke of the woman he once asked to marry him. The lawyer suggested his outbursts were further evidence of his declining mental state. Herzer’s expert psychiatrist said the harsh words showed that Redstone suffered from “stereotypical, impulsive utterances and intrusive thoughts.”
Herzer’s version of her falling out with Redstone wreaks of novelistic flair. She claims she was the victim of a “vast conspiracy” by Shari Redstone, the billionaire’s household staff, his attorneys and others. O’Donnell described a “ring of spies” that engaged in a plot not unlike a palace intrigue. The conspiracy was led by Shari, who “established a broad intelligence gathering operation inside her father’s home,” O’Donnell claimed — all with the purpose of controlling the elder Redstone.
“They were relentless, cunning, unethical and immoral” in their campaign against Redstone and the two women who largely oversaw his care in recent years — Herzer and girlfriend Sydney Holland. Holland was thrown out of the mansion just five weeks before Herzer, when Redstone learned she was having an affair.
What motivated the younger Redstone to lead such a plot? O’Donnell said it centered on her desire to take over her father’s business empire. “Shari needed to get rid of Manuela by any means because she was a formidable barrier to taking control of her father and his media empire and his money,” O’Donnell claimed.
O’Donnell argued in a 21-minute opening statement to Judge David J. Cowan that Redstone suffered a huge decline in mental function because of organic brain damage. Redstone scored just 17 of 28 on one test of his brain function — the Folstein mini-mental exam, according to O’Donnell.
Herzer demanded in her November lawsuit that she be reinstated as the person named in Redstone’s Advance Health Care Directive, saying he either did not understand what he was doing when he excluded her or that he had been brainwashed into making the change by unscrupulous nurses, lawyers and others.
After having Herzer thrown out of his home, the billionaire also removed the socialite from his estate plan, a move that cost her a $50 million bequest and future title to the Beverly Park mansion, valued at another $20 million. Lawyers for Herzer, who was in court Friday, have said that the mogul considered her “the love of his life” and only forced her out after conniving staff members made false accusations against her.
Lawyers for Redstone have said it was Herzer who was guilty of manipulation and motivated by greed. They said the Argentinian-born socialite attempted to shut Redstone off from his family and friends, including his daughter Shari, who was also in court Friday for the start of the trial.
Redstone’s daughter and his one-time lover, Herzer, sat just five yards apart in the crammed downtown courtroom. Herzer wore a plain black suit and simple pearl earrings, while Redstone’s daughter wore a gray suit. Each of the women has accused the other of engineering a conspiracy to exert control over the billionaire Redstone, to have more power in his life and access to his wealth or corporate legacy. On Friday, at least, the two did not acknowledge each other during the opening session of what is expected to be a five-day trial.
They let their lawyers do the talking in a session that is expected to continue throughout the day. After the playing of the Redstone videotape, Herzer’s lawyers were expected to call Dr. Stephen Read, a geriatric psychiatrist. Next up, after that, is expected to be Redstone’s granddaughter Keryn. The day is expected to end with videotaped testmony from Dauman.