LOS ANGELES, Calif. – Lawyers on both sides agree that ailing media mogul Sumner Redstone was being manipulated in the months before he expelled a longtime companion from his life late last year.
They disagree, however, on who was trying to control him.
The lawyers laid out their differing accounts Friday during opening statements in Los Angeles at a trial to determine if the 92-year-old Redstone was mentally competent when he threw his longtime companion Manuela Herzer out of his home in October.
The trial opened with Superior Court Judge David J. Cowan watching videotaped testimony in which Redstone repeatedly used a two-word expletive to refer to Herzer.
A transcript of the testimony shows Redstone saying, “I want Manuela out of my life,” in response to a question about how he wants the trial to end.
The judge told Herzer’s attorneys that the video appeared to show Redstone knew what he wanted, and now it was up to them to prove that he was mentally incompetent when he shunned Herzer and replaced her as the person in charge of his medical decisions.
Redstone controls CBS Corp. and Viacom Inc. through his company, National Amusements.
A doctor hired by Herzer to evaluate Redstone testified that he believes the mogul has dementia that renders him vulnerable to undue influence. Dr. Stephen Read said Redstone could name all his children and great-grandchildren but couldn’t identify basic shapes, colours or perform simple arithmetic.
During questioning by Redstone’s lawyer Robert Klieger, Read acknowledged that the mogul appeared to understand many questions but had difficulty communicating anything more than a yes or no answer. Redstone has a severe speech impediment.
Read also agreed with one of Redstone’s doctors that the businessman understood a document that replaced Herzer as the person he wanted to make medical decisions for him if he became incapacitated.
Read acknowledged he only asked one arithmetic question and Redstone had difficulty pointing to items on a board due to injuries to his hands.
Read is one of several doctors who will testify during the trial, including several who have spent longer periods of time with Redstone and handle his treatment.
The medical testimony came after opening arguments in which attorneys for both sides told Cowan that Redstone had been repeatedly deceived.
Herzer’s attorney Pierce O’Donnell claimed Redstone has been manipulated by his daughter, Shari Redstone. The lawyer explained that Herzer is trying to have Redstone declared incompetent to protect him from a circle of deceit around him.
Redstone’s attorneys Robert Klieger countered that Redstone had expelled Herzer from his home after discovering her lies. He also said Herzer had tried to isolate Redstone from his family and other women.
O’Donnell said he left a 20-minute session with Redstone on Thursday profoundly disturbed by the businessman’s condition.
“He is a living ghost whose mind has tragically become feeble,” O’Donnell said during his opening statement.
Klieger said Redstone has trouble communicating but no difficulty comprehending what’s going on around him.
If Redstone is deemed incompetent, several changes he has made to his estate plans would be invalidated.
Herzer and another of Redstone’s ex-girlfriends received a total of $150 million from the mogul between 2010 and 2015, a court document states. O’Donnell has said Redstone was generous toward Herzer and paid her tens of millions of dollars over the years.
He said Redstone and Herzer ended their romantic relationship in the late 1990s and remained close friends and confidantes until October.
“They were lovers and best friends that transcended intimacy,” O’Donnell said. Herzer was thrown out after Redstone was lied to about her, the lawyer said.
“In the blink of an eye, literally in a 48-hour period, 17 years of friendship evaporated,” O’Donnell said.
Anthony McCartney can be reached at http://twitter.com/mccartneyAP