Sumner Redstone's ex-girlfriend must sway judge on incompetence claim

Thu May 5, 2016 3:42pm EDT
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By Dan Levine and Lisa Richwine

SAN FRANCISCO/LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Sumner Redstone's much-discussed mental state will be dissected in public during a trial set to start on Friday, as an ex-girlfriend tries to convince a Los Angeles judge that the 92-year-old media mogul is incompetent in the culmination of a salacious, months-long legal drama.

If the former girlfriend, Manuela Herzer, succeeds, the outcome could set off a chain of events taking majority control of Viacom Inc and CBS Corp out of Redstone's hands, which could alter the course of the two media giants.

The law requires the court to presume Redstone is competent, putting the burden on Herzer, 51, to prove the multi-billionaire lacked mental capacity in October when he removed her as his health care agent. The trial is scheduled to run through May 16.

In court papers, Herzer portrays Redstone as a "living ghost" who communicates in grunts and is obsessed with having sex and with eating steak, even though he is on a feeding tube and no longer able to chew or swallow.

Redstone's attorneys say he has a severe speech impairment but knew exactly what he was doing in October.

In a surprise order on Monday, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge David Cowan - who will preside over the trial - allowed Herzer's team to interview Redstone at home for 15 minutes.

A video of that deposition will be played for the judge Friday, and a written transcript will be made public. "He could be your best witness," Cowan said to Redstone's attorneys.

The mogul controls about 80 percent of the voting shares of Viacom and CBS through his National Amusements movie theater company. If Herzer wins at the trial, a seven-person trust might then assess Redstone's mental capacity to vote his shares, according to a person familiar with the situation.   Continued...

Sumner Redstone, executive chairman of CBS Corp. and Viacom, arrives at the premiere of "The Guilt Trip" starring Barbra Streisand and Seth Rogen in Los Angeles December 11, 2012.  REUTERS/Fred Prouser