Redstone Competence Trial to Start With Mogul's Testimony


A high-stakes trial to settle questions about the mental competence of media mogul Sumner Redstone begins on Friday in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom.

Redstone is the controlling shareholder of Viacom Inc and CBS Corp, and the trial's outcome could affect the future of both media companies.

On the proceeding's opening day, Judge David Cowan will view a video of the 92-year-old Redstone being questioned by his own lawyer and a lawyer for his former girlfriend, Manuela Herzer, who is suing over her removal in October as the billioniaire's designated healthcare agent.

Herzer argues that Redstone was not mentally competent at the time he made the decision.

The judge will view the video in a closed session but will then release a transcript of the interview, which was recorded at Redstone's home on Thursday.

If Herzer wins, a seven-person trust might then assess Redstone's mental capacity to vote his shares, according to a person familiar with the situation.

The case has revealed fractures within the Redstone family and salacious allegations about his life inside his Beverly Park mansion.

In court papers, Herzer portrays Redstone as a "living ghost" who communicates in grunts and is obsessed with having sex and with eating steak, even though he is on a feeding tube and no longer able to chew or swallow.

Redstone's attorneys say he has a severe speech impairment but knew exactly what he was doing in October.

The law requires the court to presume Redstone is competent, putting the burden on Herzer, 51, to prove he was not mentally capable of deciding to remove her as his healthcare agent.

The judge also is expected to hear testimony on Friday from Dr. Stephen Read, a geriatric psychiatrist who was hired by Herzer and examined Redstone in January.

The trial is scheduled to run through May 16.

(Reporting by Lisa Richwine; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)