A Los Angeles tentatively rejected a bid by Sumner Redstone's long-time companion to declare the media baron mentally incompetent, leaving the man who holds a controlling interesting in CBS and Viacom to remain in control of decisions about his health care and, by extension, about his media empire.
The sudden possible end to the trial into Redstone's mental competency came Monday morning, one court day after Judge David J. Cowan watched videotaped testimony in which the corporate titan said he wanted long-time companion Manuela Herzer out of his life.
"Here there is no good cause for further judicial involvement where the Cour has now heard directly from Redstone that he has lost trust in Herzer, does not want her in his life and instead wants his daughter Sahri to look after him if necessary," Cowan said in his tentative ruling, issued just as court convened Monday. "The court has no business interfering with his perogatives."
The lawyers for Redstone and Herzer still had a chance to argue the point with Cowan, though the judge has seemed intent on dismissing the case, brought five months ago by the magnate's long-time companion.
Cowan said Friday that he was close to throwing Herzer's case out of court, but gave her lawyers the weekend and last-ditch arguments Monday to try to persuade him to continue the trial. Ultimately, the judge decided that the 92-year-old Redstone should be allowed to say who oversaw his care — rejecting Herzer's argument that the magnate's daughter, Shari, had led a "vast conspiracy" to have Herzer purged from the magnate's life.
The case drew a wave of media coverage, fueled by salacious details of Redstone's deteriorating twilight life in his Beverly Park mansion — where he received round-the-clock care that included regular visits from a much younger female sex companion. The mental competency challenge also attracted the scrutiny of Wall Street and investors, some of whom said they were concerned that the once vibrant executive had been allowed to continue as executive chairman of CBS and Viacom as a time that his decision-making abilities were compromised.
Herzer filed her lawsuit just before Thanksgiving, charging that Redstone's household staff and one of his estate lawyers conspired to force her out of his home. Four days later, Redstone ejected Herzer as his health care agent — the person who would make decisions about his well being, if he ever became unable to do so. Herzer said that point already had arrived and that Redstone no longer look after himself.
The furor over the claims led Redstone to step down in February as executive chairman of CBS and Viacom.
Redstone's lawyers countered that Herzer brought the lawsuit out of greed — attempting to prove the mogul was not competent at a time when he removed her from his estate plan. Before the change, the magnate's ex-girlfriend stood to get $50 million and title to his mansion, valued at $20 million. That bequest would have come on top of $70 million in cash and assets that Herzer, 52, previously received over.
The two sides came close to settling the dispute last month, but the talks collapsed, leading to the trial. Testimony had been scheduled to continue through Thursday, with Herzer's lawyers due to present an array nurses, household staff, doctors and others. But Judge Cowan said the testimony he heard from Redstone last week persuaded him that the magnate had made a clear decision about what he wanted. He had someone else -- daughter Shari -- who could oversee his care, if need be.