A New York judge granted a request for Viacom chairman and chief executive Philippe Dauman to be deposed in a high-profile lawsuit that seeks to examine the mental competency of Sumner Redstone, the company’s founder and controlling shareholder.
New York State Supreme Court Justice Kathryn Freed ruled that a deposition of Dauman could take place, fulfilling a request by attorneys for Manuela Herzer, a former Redstone paramour who has sued over her removal last year as Redstone’s health care proxy. Dauman, a longtime Redstone adviser, is now the executive’s health care agent, able to make decisions should Redstone become incapacitated. Redstone, who is 92 years old and believed to be in less-robust health than in prior years, stepped down as executive chairman of both Viacom and CBS Corp. earlier this month, succeeded by Dauman and Leslie Moonves, respectively.
“Mr. Dauman is pleased to cooperate and fully prepared to comply with the request for appropriate and legally relevant information in the California proceeding,” said Les Fagen, an attorney from Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison who represents Dauman, in a prepared statement. Redstone’s attorney’s are expected to file paperwork opposing Herzer’s efforts. The executive’s deposition is expected to be placed under seal, according to a person familiar with the situation, and is likely to be limited to matters pertaining to the health-care issue, and would not be related to Viacom’s corporate matters.
Herzer’s ability to prevail in the courts will prolong a case that is an embarrassment to both Redstone and the media companies he controls. Viacom has in recent months been buffeted by investor scrutiny and concern over the performance of its Paramount movie studio and various cable networks. Viacom operates MTV, Nickelodeon and Comedy Central, among others, and has grappled with ratings declines as the young audiences it serves migrate to new video-consumption opportunities available through streaming video and new-tech competitors like Netflix and Amazon.
On February 29, a Los Angeles judge is expected to consider whether Herzer’s lawsuit should be dismissed.
“We are thrilled about this significant positive development,” said Pierce O’Donnell, an attorney for Herzer, in a prepared statement that made allegations about Redstone’s mental acuity. “When I take his deposition, Dauman will be forced under oath to tell the truth.”