It was nearly a year ago that Sumner Redstone’s feisty former live-in companion went to court to try to force her way back into the media baron’s life. Manuela Herzer’s claim that Redstone had become “a living ghost” — mentally unfit to make important decisions — touched off a protracted legal brawl that eventually remade the magnate’s corporate empire.
But now l’affaire Redstone has a new and unexpected chapter, with Herzer turning against the flamboyant lawyer who had been her champion in multiple courtrooms on both coasts. Herzer has charged in a lawsuit and a complaint to the State Bar that attorney Pierce O’Donnell and his law firm got her to pay $500,000 of another client’s legal fees, without proper protections for her or her money.
Herzer alleges that O’Donnell and his powerful Century City firm, Greenberg Glusker, “breached their fiduciary duty…by allowing their personal financial interest to detract from their duty of loyalty, absolute good faith, and candor to Herzer.”
O’Donnell did not respond to requests for comment. “It is not our practice to make specific, public comments about our clients, current or past,” Bob Baradaran, Greenberg Glusker’s managing partner, said in a statement. “However, Ms. Herzer’s complaint is inaccurate and her claims are unfounded, for reasons that we believe will be clear once the facts are fully presented.”
Redstone’s one-time lover was persuaded to give $500,000 to Greenberg Glusker so the firm would continue to represent Keryn Redstone, said Ronald Richards, Herzer’s current lawyer. The 30-something Keryn is a Redstone granddaughter whose interests aligned with Herzer’s – both women charged they were banned from the nonagenarian’s life by a cabal of household staff members, acting at the direction of Redstone’s daughter, Shari.
Shari Redstone vehemently denied this. She said it was Herzer and another long-time companion, Sydney Holland, who had taken control of Sumner Redstone’s life. She alleged that the two women manipulated the then 92-year-old billionaire into giving them as much as $150 million, total, while encouraging him to spurn his family and long-time friends.
The sordid courtroom drama began last November when Herzer, now 53, went to court, asking a Los Angeles probate judge to order her restored as primary health care agent for Redstone. That designation would have made her the person who would be in charge of Redstone’s care, should the frail businessman ever become unable to direct his doctors and nurses.
Herzer’s legal team, led by O’Donnell, initially claimed her interest was solely in protecting Redstone’s well-being, having nothing to do with his more-than-$5-billion fortune. Herzer soon made clear, however, that she had her eyes on Redstone’s estate. The billionaire had once written her into his will, to the tune of $50 million and future deed to his Beverly Park mansion, valued at another $20 million. Herzer was not happy that she was tossed out of his will in October, just after Redstone’s staff ejected her from his home. (Redstone had accused her of blocking him from relationships with some of his other intimates.)
Herzer could have settled the whole matter and taken home some $30 million, before the case ever went to trial, sources familiar with the matter said. But Herzer balked at some details and the settlement fizzled.
Judge David J. Cowan soon rejected Herzer’s claims, last May, largely based on videotaped testimony from Redstone himself. Though fragile, halting and unfocused during much of the deposition, Redstone was (profanely) clear that he wanted Herzer out of his life.
Still, Herzer continues to press her claims. She has an appeal of Cowan’s decision pending and is prosecuting another lawsuit, claiming what she calls her rightful future inheritance from Redstone. Shari Redstone and staff in her father’s home are among the defendants.
In all of the cases, O’Donnell and Greenberg Glusker were Herzer’s ebullient representatives. O’Donnell depicted Herzer as Redstone’s one “true love,” who only was forced from his side by a plot of epic proportions. O’Donnell even evoked Shakespeare in his legal pleadings.
Though opposed by most of the many parties to the dispute, Herzer had one stalwart ally in Keryn Redstone. Herzer and the Redstone granddaughter became friends during the younger woman’s frequent visits to the Redstone mansion, according to attorney Richards. Herzer provided Keryn with financial and emotional support when the granddaughter was spurned by some Redstone family members, Richards said.
It was in June that O’Donnell approached Herzer, asking her to front $500,000 for Keryn’s legal representation. “He said ‘We need you to pay for Keryn’s legal fees and this is a good deal for you,’” said Richards, who for months served alongside Greenberg Glusker’s attorneys as co-counsel for Herzer. “Manuela trusted Pierce; that he would take care of this money and that he would use it for her benefit.”
But according to Richards, O’Donnell and his firm did not take any of the legal steps required to protect Herzer’s interests: They did not provide adequate legal documentation of the reasons she was paying them the money. They did not spell out how, or when, the money would be repaid. And, most importantly, according to Richards, Greenberg Glusker did not tell Herzer she should get an independent lawyer to advise her on whether she should make the unusual payment on behalf of another client.
According to Herzer’s lawsuit, Greenberg Glusker should have told her in writing that she should “seek advice of an independent lawyer of the client’s choice and [give her] a reasonable opportunity to seek that advice.”
Both Herzer and her other lawyer, Richards, said they reached out to O’Donnell and his firm repeatedly, asking for an accounting of the funds. They received no adequate response, according to both the lawsuit and a separate complaint filed with the State Bar. They then asked for the money to be paid back, the complaints allege.
Richards said that Greenberg Glusker has already received more than $1 million in fees from Herzer. She simply wants the $500,000 she paid on behalf of Keryn Redstone to be returned. “She just wants the money back,” said Richards. “Give the woman her money back. You have already made enough off of her.”
The lawsuit asks for $500,000 in damages; an order voiding Herzer’s original $500,000 transfer, along with interest on the funds and a reimbursement of court costs. The complaint to the State Bar, which oversees licensing of attorneys, demands “necessary and appropriate action” against O’Donnell and his firm. It does not recommend what that action should be.
The lawsuit notes that O’Donnell has been suspended by the State Bar twice previously, both times related to his conviction on misdemeanor counts of using a false name to make political contributions and making an illegal contribution in the name of another person.
O’Donnell was placed on two years probation and suspended for 60 days in 2011, in connection with the case, according to the Herzer lawsuit. It adds: “O’Donnell stipulated that those convictions involved moral turpitude and other misconduct warranting discipline.”
Attorney Richards said he will continue to represent Herzer in her remaining Redstone cases. He said he has requested that Greenberg Glusker turn over all the records in those cases, but the firm has not yet sent him the files.