Judge leans Redstone's way in trial over media mogul's mental state

Fri May 6, 2016 9:11pm EDT
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(Note language in third paragraph. Rewrites with further quotes from court, background on Viacom)

By Lisa Richwine

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A judge called Sumner Redstone's deposition "strong evidence" that the media mogul knew what he was doing when he ejected an ex-girlfriend from his life, suggesting Redstone has the upper hand in a trial over his mental competence that began on Friday.

Although the 92-year-old billionaire, who has majority control of media companies Viacom and CBS, had some trouble speaking in the deposition and did not respond coherently to certain questions, he was clear on the central issue.

Redstone repeatedly called the ex-girlfriend, Manuela Herzer, a "fucking bitch" in the deposition circulated in the packed courtroom, and accused her of stealing money from him. When asked what he wanted at the end of the trial, Redstone replied: "I want Manuela out of my life. Yeah."

Herzer is suing Redstone over her removal in October as the billionaire's designated health care, arguing that Redstone was not mentally competent at the time he made the decision. Redstone's lawyers say he has difficulty speaking but is mentally fit.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge David Cowan reviewed Redstone's video deposition privately, and appeared to sympathize with the ailing Redstone.

"He has told me now, best he can, what he wants," said Cowan, who will decide the case without a jury. "That's strong evidence."

"Your burden now is a hard one," Cowan said to Herzer's attorneys, who must prove that Redstone was mentally incompetent when he removed Herzer from his plans.   Continued...

An exterior view of the downtown court house where a judge is hearing the case of the health of the controlling shareholder of Viacom and CBS, Sumner Redstone in Los Angeles, California, May 6, 2016. REUTERS/Kevork Djansezian