UPDATED: Sumner Redstone will not be forced to testify in a trial that begins Friday over his mental competency, but he will give a short videotaped deposition in his home, with a transcript of the proceeding released to the public, a Los Angeles judge ruled Monday.
Lawyers for Redstone’s long-time companion, Manuela Herzer, had requested that the 92-year-old billionaire be ordered to appear at the trial. But Judge David J. Cowan said he would only order that the man who holds a controlling interest in CBS Corp. and Viacom sit for a total of 30 minutes for an examination by lawyers.
The private videotaped testimony can be used by either side in the trial. But the judge said that, to protect Redstone’s “dignity,” the video would be held private, with only a written transcript released to the press and public. The judge had previously ruled that the trial would be open to the public, despite an appeal from Redstone’s lawyers to close some testimony about his medical status.
Cowan said he reached his ruling — to require Redstone to testify, but not in open court — in order to balance the need to get to the truth about his mental competency with the judge’s desire to provide the mogul with a measure of privacy.
The demand for Redstone to testify comes in a case filed by Herzer, who alleges that she was improperly removed last October as Redstone’s health care agent — charged with making decisions should Redstone become mentally incapacitated. Herzer claims Redstone was incompetent at the time of the change, with unnamed individuals around him forcing the change.
“There can … be no more important evidence than what Redstone himself would state, his manner of communication and his ability to respond to questions,” Cowan wrote in his seven-page ruling.
The judge said the testimony will be even more important because two geriatric psychiatrists, hired by the opposing sides, will offer diverging opinions on his mental competency. Other competing witnesses, who have offered declarations, have disagreed on whether Redstone is able to communicate. “The court does not know who, or what, to believe,” Cowan wrote, adding that “it is essential that the court see and hear from Redstone himself to make a fully informed decision.”
Redstone’s speech therapist will sit in on the deposition to help lawyers interpret the answers of the magnate, who suffers from a speech impediment. Cowan said Monday: “It is essential that the court see and hear from Redstone himself to make a fully informed decision.”
Redstone’s lawyers expressed concern that he might be embarrassed by public testimony, because of the speech impairment and other health challenges. By asking for a deposition, Cowan said he sought to balance between protecting Redstone’s privacy and allowing the parties and the public to understand his views on the fight over his health care.
The judge said he intended to shield Redstone from the “indignity” of having to testify in open court, given his speech impediment. The judge set the questioning for Redstone’s home in Beverly Park and limited the questioning to 15 minutes on each side. He also said that the magnate’s attorneys would have the unilateral right to terminate the questioning should they believe there is “any risk to Redstone’s health going forward.”
Lawyers for Redstone and Herzer were near a settlement in the case, but the talks collapsed and the case now appears headed to trial.
Redstone’s lawyers issued a statement. “We appreciate the Court’s continued protection of Mr. Redstone’s privacy and dignity,” it said. Herzer’s lawyers also praised Cowan for his “Solomonic judgment,” which they said assured “that he is able to hear from Redstone while at the same time respecting his dignity, privacy, and health.”