With a little more than a week to go before a trial over Sumner Redstone’s mental competency, the fierce maneuvering in the case continues, with attorneys for his long-time companion attempting to force the billionaire to appear as a witness and Redstone’s lawyers asking that some testimony about his medical condition be given in secret to protect his privacy.
Lawyers for Manuela Herzer said they needed Redstone’s live testimony because his lawyers have refused to have him answer questions in writing. But they appear to face a substantial hurdle in trying to get the media magnate to appear, since they previously said they would not call him and the judge in the case has declined to force Redstone to give a deposition.
The two-page “notice to appear” filed Tuesday by Herzer’s legal team does not elaborate on the reasons for calling Redstone.
Redstone’s lawyers declined to respond to the latest gambit on Tuesday. But they previously excoriated their opponents, saying their insistence on bringing the Viacom and CBS titan into public view could subject him to embarrassment — since he is frail and suffers from a severe speech impediment. They have said the push to expose Redstone belies Herzer’s stated concerns about his well being.
Judge David J. Cowan is expected to rule Wednesday whether Redstone, 92, must appear in court for the trial, scheduled to begin May 6 in downtown Los Angeles.
The case centers on the 52-year-old Herzer’s claim that she was improperly forced out of Redstone’s Beverly Park mansion last October, then removed two days later as his health care agent — the person designated to oversee his health care in the event he becomes incapacitated.
Herzer argued that Redstone had already become mentally incompetent by October and that unscrupulous people around him manipulated Redstone into signing papers supplanting her. She said she worries his medical care has suffered in her absence and that a clear-thinking Redstone would have wanted her to remain in charge.
Redstone’s lawyers say that the billionaire was completely lucid when he made his decision to remove Herzer and to make others — most recently his daughter, Shari — responsible. The Redstone camp charges that Herzer’s entire action is designed for her to pave the way to make a later claim to a share of Redstone’s estate. She once had been in line to receive $50 million and Redstone’s $20 million home, before she was stricken from his estate.
The two sides recently were on the verge of a settlement, but the talks fell apart, clearing the way for what promises to be a highly contentious trial that will expose the foibles of not only Redstone, but his family and potentially others. Among the more provocative charges from Herzer’s side: that Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman let the magnate continue on as chairman of the company, when he knew he no longer had the mental capacity to do so.
Cowan is also expected to hear arguments Wednesday about how much testimony about Redstone’s condition should be made public during the trial. The judge previously has said he recognizes the privacy rights protect some of the media mogul’s medical information and asked his attorneys to keep that information private.
His attorneys filed papers this week saying that the public and press should be “temporarily excluded” during the trial when witnesses are discussing “medical care, nursing care and other constitutionally protected matters.” Transcripts of testimony that does not pertain to medical matters would be made available within 24 hours, according to the proposal put forward by Redstone’s lawyers.
Judge Cowan previously said he intended for the trial to be open to the public. And California law presumes that most trials are open to all. A lawyer representing the Los Angeles Times and the Hollywood Reporter, said the plan submitted this week by Redstone would unfairly restrict the public’s right to attend the trial.
“The plan put forth by Mr. Redstone’s counsel does not adequately protect the public’s right to know what is happening in court,” lawyer Jean-Paul Jassy said, according to the newspaper. “What Mr. Redstone’s counsel has proposed is an unworkable system with people being ushered in and out of the courtroom, question by question.”