UPDATED: Manuela Herzer’s actions and her truthfulness will be central issues in the trial over the mental competency of media magnate Sumner Redstone, the judge in the case ruled Thursday in rejecting an attempt by Herzer’s lawyers to limit testimony about Redstone’s long-time companion.
Judge David J. Cowan said that he would not curtail testimony about Herzer’s actions when she was a live-in at Redstone’s home. “The court needs to find out one way or another whether she was dishonest or not to Mr. Redstone,” Cowan said.
The judge said scrutiny of Herzer’s actions was critical to determining not only the credibility of her own claims about Redstone, but because the opinions of one of her expert witnesses — Dr. Stephen Read — also were based largely on what Herzer said about Redstone’s purportedly deteriorating mental condition.
Geriatric psychiatrist Read based his initial opinion on Redstone’s mental state on interviews he did with Herzer and her brother. They apparently contended that one measure of Redstone’s deteriorating mental state was that the 92-year-old believed his long-time friend, Herzer, had turned against him. Cowan said he could not judge Redstone’s thinking on this matter without understanding the underlying facts about their frayed relationship.
The motion was one of several in which the judge ruled against Herzer in the final hearing before the start of a trial Friday into Redstone’s mental competency. Cowan also declined a Herzer proposal to hear arguments about Redstone’s mental capacity first, before listening to evidence about claims that the magnate was a victim of undue influence. The judge said the two issues were inextricably linked and he would not separate them.
“At the end of the day, the court … needs to hear about what did or did not happen in that month before that directive was revoked,” Cowan said.
Herzer is attempting to prove that she was improperly forced out of Redstone’s home last October and subsequently removed as his health care agent — the person empowered to make decisions about his care should he become incapacitated. In the litigation filed five months ago, she is seeking to have Redstone ruled incompetent and to have herself restored as overseer of his care.
Herzer argued that one of Redstone’s nurses, Jeremy Jagiello, spent long hours with the magnate and had inordinate sway over his decisions. She claims that it was Jagiello who misled Redstone into believing that she, Herzer, had lied to Redstone and taken advantage of him. The nurse was acting as part of a “vast” conspiracy that also involved other caretakers and Redstone’s lawyers, Herzer alleges.
Redstone’s attorneys, in rebuttal, have said Herzer is really only after Redstone’s money. If she can win the contest over the health care mandate, it could also reverse a decision that the Viacom and CBS chairman emeritus made to remove Herzer from his estate, costing her $50 million and the future right to his $20 million mansion.
Herzer’s lawyers insisted they were not disturbed by the reversals Thursday. “It’s not a surprise to us and we are very happy to defend that position,” said Pierce O’Donnell, Herzer’s lead counsel. “When the testimony comes out, we will see who was lying to whom.”