UPDATED: Sumner Redstone went to court last fall to recover $150 million in cash and gifts that he said two of his one-time lovers coerced out of him when he was in declining mental and physical health. The two women — Manuela Herzer and Sydney Holland — respond that the litigation is not really being directed by Redstone but by his daughter, Shari.
The women’s lawyers were in court Wednesday attempting to obtain an independent mental examination of the 93-year-old Redstone, to buttress their contention that he did not have the capacity to make the claims against them when the case was filed last October. After lengthy arguments, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert Hess sounded skeptical about forcing the frail magnate to undergo an exam. The judge took the matter under submission and said he would rule later.
The hearing Wednesday was the most recent in a lawsuit filed four months ago by Redstone, accusing Herzer and Holland of illegally extracting the vast sums from him via a combination of cash, jewelry, designer clothing, and real estate.
The lawsuit contends the two women used emotional abuse and threats of abandonment to coerce the frail Redstone into parting with his riches. Herzer and Holland purportedly isolated the former chairman of CBS Corp. and Viacom from family and close friends, in order to drain his bank accounts and enhance their position in his estate plan.
Herzer, 53, and Holland, 45, allegedly took so much from Redstone — including matching $45 million checks in a single day in 2014 — that he was pushed into debt by the gifts and the enormous taxes that went with them. The lawsuit accuses the duo with elder abuse, fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, and infliction of emotional distress.
The women allegedly told the often-bedridden magnate that they were the only ones who truly cared for him and would protect him, and that if they left his Beverly Park mansion he would die alone. Redstone, now 93, was so disturbed that he would sometimes be reduced to tears, the suit alleged.
Mark Holscher, the attorney representing Holland in the case, told Judge Hess an outside expert was needed to determine Redstone’s true mental capacity and ability to participate in the case. He noted that in the myriad other legal actions surrounding his control of his media empire there had been dueling opinions from the two opposing sides.
“I am saying in this case here in a non-partisan way in a neutral way” to make a determination, Holscher said. The attorney later added that “there is significant circumstantial evidence indicating a recent sharp decline in health. There is a legitimate question as to whether this lawsuit and all the voluminous paperwork with it are really his.”
Among the concern of the two defendants in the case is that the 93-year-old Redstone could die before they have a chance to probe how much he was really involved in the litigation.
Wednesday’s motion was brought by Holland, who was not in court, but the attorney for the other defendant in the case made clear that she also believes that it is not Redstone who is going after her in court. “It’s been her contention that this specific lawsuit is being orchestrated by Shari Redstone,” said Herzer’s attorney, Ronald Richards, “and that there has been no way to independently verify” that Redstone really is seeking the massive financial recovery.
Redstone’s attorney, Robert Klieger, said there was no evidence that the nonagenarian was not in command of the litigation. He said that numerous people –including doctors, relatives and household staff — were in routine contact with Redstone. And “there is no one in any contact who says there has been any decline in his mental capacity,” Klieger said.
The attorney said the defendants had not provided adequate proof of the need for a new mental exam. Experts previously hired by the media titan had said that he remained mentally capable, though he had trouble communicating because of a severe speech impairment. Others in touch with Redstone, including former Viacom CEO Dauman, said he clearly was no longer capable of making important decisions on his own.
Hess said that he understood the two women’s concerns but that in his 25 years as a judge that he had not received a motion before to appoint an independent expert to determine one party’s mental and physical health. He also noted that Redstone’s personal physician had already examined him, routinely, and warned that the billionaire was not healthy enough to endure a deposition. He added there were “significant privacy implications” in regard to ordering exams beyond the ones Redstone already receives.
Hess said he had read press accounts of the claims that Shari Redstone was “being accused of playing puppet master,” but the judge said he had “no basis yet to evaluate that charge.”
After more than 90 minutes of discussion, Hess recessed the case without making a ruling. He did not say when he would issue his decision.
The two women have argued that it is absurd to say they could have taken advantage of Redstone. They said he had plenty of safeguards in place to make sure no one got the best of him — with doctors and attorneys overseeing all the payments he made.
Holland said in her formal response to Redstone’s charges that all the gifts she received amounted to just 1.5% of his net worth and that his largesse was widely known by those around him. Even CBS Corp. CEO Les Moonves knew about the largest monetary gift to his live-in lover, her court papers say.
Holland also said it is far from accurate to portray the gifts to her and Herzer as out of the norm. Her response said Redstone had a long history of making lavish gifts to his lovers: $21 million to one mistress, a reality show producer; $18 million to a flight attendant and later $6 million to the attendant’s sister, with whom he had sex.
Holland and Herzer said it was the businessman’s daughter, Shari, who manipulated him into disowning the two women, despite their years of loyalty to him. They argue that Shari Redstone was intent on positioning herself into taking control of the two conglomerates her father had long directed — Viacom and CBS.
Viacom went through a tumultuous leadership struggle last year; the Redstones successfully forced out Philippe Dauman, the Viacom CEO who had previously been a former corporate attorney and long-time confidant of Sumner Redstone’s.
The furor over Redstone’s physical condition and mental competency kicked off in 2015, when Herzer went to court, saying she had been improperly ejected from the billionaire’s home and removed as his health care trustee. The case went to trial in a Los Angeles court but was quickly dismissed after Redstone said in a videotaped deposition that he wanted his one-time “true-love” out of his life. He had reportedly turned on his long-time companion because he believed she misled him into believing that two other paramours were no longer interested in seeing him. Herzer denied she misled Redstone.