June 1, 2016 / 6:27 PM / 2 years ago

Redstone's granddaughter says she backs Viacom's directors

(Reuters) - Sumner Redstone’s granddaughter Keryn said on Wednesday she plans to support the independent directors of Viacom Inc to help free the 93-year-old media mogul from the “clutches” of his daughter, Shari.

Sumner Redstone in Los Angeles December 11, 2012. REUTERS/Fred Prouser/File Photo

The independent directors have questioned Sumner Redstone’s mental competence, and said they would legally contest any move by his purported representatives to remove them from Viacom’s board.

“I will soon be announcing legal steps to join with the Viacom directors in our common cause to liberate my grandfather from Shari’s clutches and protect my fellow trust beneficiaries and myself from her machinations,” Keryn Redstone said in a statement issued by attorney Pierce O‘Donnell, who also represents Sumner Redstone’s ex-girlfriend Manuela Herzer.

Herzer had challenged Redstone’s mental competence after she was ejected from his mansion last October. She had sought to be reinstated as his designated healthcare agent, but a Los Angeles judge dismissed that case in May.

On Wednesday, O‘Donnell said in a statement that he might ask for a new trial. He said a lawsuit filed by Viacom Chief Executive Philippe Dauman included “material new evidence” that was unavailable at the time of the trial.

Dauman’s lawsuit challenges his removal from the seven-person trust that would control Sumner Redstone’s controlling stake in Viacom and CBS Corp when Redstone dies or is found incompetent.

Keryn Redstone, who supported Herzer’s lawsuit, said in her statement that she affectionately called her grandfather “Grumpy.” She said the last time she saw him was for 15 minutes on Valentine’s Day, and described how she “quietly sobbed” as she held his “cold hand.”

“As he sat there lifeless and flanked by his nurses and caretakers, he seemed unaware of his surroundings,” Keryn Redstone said.

She added, “I cry myself to sleep every night knowing that I might never see him again.”

She said she was prevented from seeing him again by her aunt, Shari Redstone, who is vice chair of Viacom’s board.

A spokeswoman for Shari Redstone had no comment. She had previously denied allegations that she was manipulating her father. “Shari has made it abundantly clear that she has no desire to manage Viacom nor chair its board,” she said in a statement on Tuesday.

Sumner Redstone, in a statement issued last week by his spokesman, said he was considering replacing Viacom’s CEO and its board of directors.

Legal experts said Dauman and the directors would face a tough legal battle to prevent their ouster because Redstone’s National Amusements Inc (NAI) had the ability to immediately remove Viacom’s board at any time under Delaware law.

NAI controls 80 percent of the voting shares in Viacom and CBS Corp.

Shares of Viacom have lost about half their value in the past two years as its cable networks, including MTV and Nickelodeon, suffered from falling ratings because younger viewers were migrating online and to mobile video.

The shares have risen about 14 percent since Redstone removed Dauman from the trust on May 20, a move that some investors saw as the first step in a change in management that could eventually lead to a sale of the media company.

Dauman, in the legal challenge to his removal from the trust, argues that Redstone was being manipulated by his daughter. A trial date for the lawsuit was set for October, but Dauman filed a motion to expedite the trial. A hearing on the expedition was scheduled for June 7.

Sumner Redstone last week asked a Los Angeles court for an order to validate his removal of Dauman, 62, and Abrams from the trust and from the board of NAI.

Redstone is expected to file a motion this week to oppose the expedited trial and ask for the issue to be handled by the Los Angeles court, a source on Redstone’s strategy team told Reuters.

Reporting by Lisa Richwine in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by Jessica Toonkel in New York; Editing by Tiffany Wu and Richard Chang

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