Massachusetts judge asks about Sumner Redstone's condition in hearing

Thu Jun 30, 2016 5:00pm EDT
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By Jessica Toonkel

(Reuters) - A Massachusetts judge presiding over a case hinging on Sumner Redstone's mental condition on Thursday peppered attorneys on both sides of the dispute with questions about the 93-year-old media mogul's state of mind and how he communicates with people.

Judge George Phelan decided, however, not to hear arguments about whether Redstone should be subject to a medical examination immediately, and did not rule on whether the case should continue in Massachusetts - or even if it should continue at all - leaving the legal tussle over Redstone's $40 billion media empire no closer to being resolved. "Obviously I have a lot of information to digest in just the motion to dismiss itself," Phelan said on Thursday after a hearing that lasted more than five hours. "It's going to take me a while to grasp all of that."

The hearing was the latest episode in the legal wrangle over the fate of Redstone's controlling stake in Viacom Inc (VIAB.O: Quote) and CBS Corp (CBS.N: Quote), which has been playing out on both U.S. coasts over the past several months.

The main issue before Phelan on Thursday was whether Redstone knew what he was doing when he removed Viacom Chief Executive Philippe Dauman and Viacom board member George Abrams from the seven-person trust that will control Redstone's holdings when he dies or is incapacitated.

The trust, officially called the Sumner M. Redstone National Amusements Inc Trust, owns about 80 percent of Redstone's privately held movie theater company, National Amusements Inc, which in turn owns 80 percent of the voting rights in both Viacom and CBS.

After their removal from the trust, Dauman and Abrams claimed in a lawsuit in the Massachusetts court that Redstone suffers from dementia, impaired cognition, a slowness of mental processing, a loss of memory, apathy, depression and has been manipulated by his daughter, Shari Redstone. Sumner Redstone has denied that in court filings.

In an effort to shed light on the matter, Phelan asked attorneys at Thursday's hearing how Redstone communicated with his secretary, how his speech therapist understood what he was saying and whether she had expertise in doing so.

“Since October 2015, how does information get to Sumner Redstone ... who is providing it?” Phelan asked attorneys for Sumner and Shari Redstone. He asked if intermediaries were involved, and how Redstone's directions are conveyed to outside people.   Continued...

Sumner Redstone, executive chairman of Viacom Inc and CBS Corp, poses for a photo after answering questions at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California, U.S. May 2, 2012. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok/File Photo