Judge says needs time to rule on date of Sumner Redstone competence trial

Tue Jun 7, 2016 4:39pm EDT
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By Jessica Toonkel

CANTON, Mass. (Reuters) - The battle over control of Sumner Redstone’s $40 billion media empire moved to a Massachusetts courtroom on Tuesday, where a state judge said he needed time to decide whether to move up the date of a trial questioning the 93-year-old’s mental competence.

Probate and Family Court Judge George Phelan did not set a date for a trial over whether Redstone knew what he was doing when he removed Viacom Inc (VIAB.O: Quote) CEO Philippe Dauman and Viacom board member George Abrams from the seven-person trust that will control Redstone's majority ownership of media companies Viacom and CBS Corp (CBS.N: Quote) when he dies or is deemed incapacitated.

"I have a lot to digest," said Phelan, adding that he expected to hold a hearing on Redstone's lawyers' imminent motion to dismiss the case by the end of June.

Phelan suggested the world of multi-billion dollar trusts was a far cry from his own modest upbringing in a housing project, where he said he was “happy to have a quarter in my pocket." He added that "it may take a few days to get there.”

It is not the first time Redstone's mental competence has been challenged in court. A lawsuit brought by his former girlfriend, Manuela Herzer, claiming Redstone was “a living ghost,” was thrown out by a Los Angeles judge last month.

However, Dauman's more recent suit goes further, claiming that Redstone suffers from dementia, impaired cognition, a slowness of mental processing, a loss of memory, apathy and depression.

Redstone's primary physician, Dr. Richard Gold, said in a court document that he sees his patient at least twice a week and had not observed any recent decline in his condition.

"Mr. Redstone exercises daily and has gone on recent excursions to visit with his grandson and also with friends in Malibu," said Gold.   Continued...

Philippe Dauman, president and CEO of Viacom, speaks at the Reuters Global Media Summit in New York December 2, 2010.   REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo