Redstone competency trial

Media mogul Redstone hates ex-girlfriend

LOS ANGELES • Media mogul Sumner Redstone, his speech unsteady and weakened by age, was blunt. His affection for ex- girlfriend Manuela Herzer, whom he once called the love of his life, had curdled into hatred.

The trial to determine whether he is mentally competent started last Friday.

Mr Redstone, 92, has such difficulty communicating that he was assisted in his testimony by a translator who, at one point, asked that his dentures be adjusted so he could be better understood.

He was questioned for 18 minutes and was most articulate when asked about Herzer, using obscenities to describe her. "I hate her," he said, according to a transcript. "I want Manuela out of my life."

And that seemed to impress Los Angeles Superior Court Judge David Cowan, who called it "strong evidence". "I want to know why this testimony should not be respected," he said to Ms Herzer's attorney, Mr Pierce O'Donnell. "Your burden is a hard one."

Ms Herzer claims Mr Redstone, the controlling shareholder of CBS Corp and Viacom Inc, was not mentally capable in October when he kicked her out of his mansion and ended her oversight of his medical care.

In the recorded testimony, Mr Redstone said Ms Herzer had stolen money from him and lied to him. His testimony was taken last Thursday at his home, with questions posed by one of his lawyers, Ms Gabrielle Vidal, and Mr O'Donnell.

Mr Redstone did not answer some.

At some points, according to the transcript, he could not form a word and was asked to point to letters to spell them out. Shown a photo of himself and Ms Herzer and asked when it was taken, he said: "Who cares?"

His lawyers said in a court filing that in the weeks before she was evicted, she spent more than US$200,000 (S$272,000) using his American Express card and had him sign for US$40,000 in cash delivered to his house. They said she also executed a US$5-million grant agreement with him for the foundation she runs.

In all, they said, he spent about US$150 million on her and another former girlfriend, Ms Sydney Holland, who also had briefly been his healthcare agent. They exercised "virtually unfettered" control over his money, the lawyers said.

He is worth about US$4.5 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

The judge said that today, he would consider a request by Mr Redstone's lawyers to dismiss the case. "I haven't had time to think it through," he said, telling lawyers from both sides that he would request briefings from them over the weekend. "I need to have evidence that shows that he doesn't know what he's saying" on the videotape.

The lawsuit Ms Herzer, 52, filed in November seeks to have her reinstated as the person with sole control to make end-of-life care decisions for him. A ruling in her favour could cost Mr Redstone control of his stakes in Viacom and CBS, media giants worth US$42 billion.

In his opening argument, Mr O'Donnell said Mr Redstone's daughter Shari had orchestrated a palace coup to get rid of Ms Herzer, surrounding Mr Redstone in "a circle of deceit" with nurses and staff who spied on Shari's behalf.

In a statement, Ms Redstone called that "total fiction with no factual basis".

Mr Robert Klieger, an attorney for Mr Redstone, said in his opening remarks his client does not tolerate lies. He said nobody questioned Mr Redstone's mental capacity when he threw Ms Holland, the other ex-girlfriend, out of his house in August and removed her from his healthcare directive.

According to Mr Klieger, Ms Herzer lied to Mr Redstone about Ms Holland and a third woman, Ms Terry Holbrook.

She tricked him into leaving voicemails on her number when he thought he was calling Ms Holbrook and created fake letters from Ms Holland. 

Another witness last Friday, Dr Stephen Read, a physician hired by Ms Herzer to examine Mr Redstone, told the judge that Mr Redstone displays symptoms of dementia.

Dr Read said Mr Redstone bet with family members on televised sports games and did not realise they were recorded, and that the others let him win.

Dr Read described his personality: "Anger emerges quickly and readily, short-circuiting everything else."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 09, 2016, with the headline 'Media mogul Redstone hates ex-girlfriend'. Print Edition | Subscribe