- Billionaire’s mental capacity at heart of three lawsuits
- ‘He takes an active interest in everything,’ Klieger says
Sumner Redstone’s lawyer said he meets with the 93-year-old mogul three or four times a week when he’s in Los Angeles and uses Apple’s FaceTime to communicate with him when he can’t see him in person.
Redstone’s speech is severely impaired and conversation often goes best when yes-or-no answers are requested, according to his attorney Robert Klieger. The billionaire is still mentally sound, said the Los Angeles-based partner at Hueston Hennigan LLP, who has been working with Redstone for three months.
“He takes an active interest in everything that’s happening,” Klieger said in an interview Wednesday. “Ultimately, the decisions Sumner is making are his decisions.”
Redstone’s mental capacity is at the heart of three lawsuits in courtrooms in Massachusetts, California and Delaware. He’s the controlling shareholder of two of the world’s largest media companies, Viacom Inc. and CBS Corp., and in recent weeks he’s removed board members from Viacom and trustees from the entity that will control those companies upon his passing.
Viacom Chief Executive Officer Philippe Dauman and director George Abrams have sued to reverse those actions, claiming Redstone is being manipulated by his daughter Shari.
“It matters a great deal to Viacom’s shareholders and Viacom’s board if Sumner Redstone lacked capacity or was unduly influenced in the making of recent and dramatic governance changes,” a Viacom spokesman said in a statement Tuesday. “Individuals who have taken part in such a scheme could and should be ruled unfit to serve as trustees or board members.”
As evidence of the escalating battle over the company, Klieger and 42 other lawyers are attending a hearing Thursday in a courtroom in Canton, Massachusetts, over whether Dauman’s claims belong in that state or California, where Redstone now resides.
“If a court allows a trial on Redstone’s competency, Redstone has a right to have those claims heard in California where he lives and conducts business,” Klieger said Thursday in court. “That is a right he is entitled to. He is not required to adjudicate his competency requirement somewhere else.”
Redstone has suffered from speech problems for years, according to James Spar, a psychiatrist who has examined the long-time media executive at the behest of his legal team. Descriptions of what he suffers from vary. In a June 1 letter filed in Massachusetts, Spar said the billionaire’s speech was “extremely dysarthric,” referring to a motor skills impairment.
In a June 23 filing in Massachusetts requesting an immediate examination of the mogul, Dauman and Abrams cited an earlier medical evaluation that found Redstone suffering from a “major neurocognitive disorder” and dementia “at the severe end of moderate” that made him “extremely vulnerable to influence from others.”
The billionaire is not being manipulated by his daughter, Klieger said in the interview. Shari Redstone counsels her father and “maker her views clear.”
“He listens to her,” Klieger said. “He does not always agree with her.”
The description of Shari as “a puppetmaster, a lying conniving manipulator, isn’t true,” Shari’s attorney Elizabeth Burnett said Thursday in court. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”