Sumner Redstone and his lady-friends in happier, more carefree times. Image: Vanity Fair
The battle for control over elderly media titan Sumner Redstone's estate assets is entering a new round, with opposing sides as contentious as ever. 92-year-old Redstone, founder of the multibillion corporate empire that includes both Viacom and CBS, has been the center of controversy since he released onetime girlfriend Manuela Herzer, 51, from duties as his primary caregiver back in October of 2015. When Redstone sent Herzer on her way, he also rescinded $50 million in cash and a $20 million Beverly Park mansion he had planned on gifting her upon his death. This bout of estate litigation seems far from over, however - Herzer is hitting back with claims of undue influence in her latest filing in Los Angeles County Superior Court.
Herzer's charge that third parties are exercising undue influence over Redstone concerns the actions of Philippe Dauman, Viacom's CEO, and daughter Shari Redstone. In the years leading up to the conflict, there had been substantial acrimony between Redstone and Shari over the intimate role that Herzer and fellow girlfriend Sydney Holland played in his life (Redstone had promised Holland some portion of largesse, as well, until he removed her from his will last September). Herzer's lawyer Bertram Fields stated that the entertainment mogul "is vulnerable to, and has become, the victim of undue influence, fraud, manipulation and chicanery." In addition, the new motion includes information on Shari's use of a private investigator to follow both Herzer and Holland and keep tabs on their activities.
Central to Herzer's potential case is the issue Redstone's capacity: was he cognitively and mentally fit to kick Herzer and Holland out of his life (and his will) last fall? Her legal team is likely to present 37 pages of findings taken by UCLA geriatric psychiatrist Dr. Stephen L. Read from an hour-long session he spent with Redstone in January. The next hearing is set for February 29th, when Redstone's attorneys will seek to have the case dismissed while Herzer will be pushing for evidence of incapacity and undue influence.
Other details have surfaced in Herzer's declaration, as well: Redstone wants a toned-down Jewish funeral and burial in a "simple pine box" next to his parents in Massachusetts. Whether that day comes months from now or ten years down the road, there's a high likelihood that probate and trust litigation will be undertaken by the various players jockeying for position and assets in Redstone's Viacom/CBS media empire. Billions are at stake, and the unpleasant side of human nature has a tendency to show itself in such circumstances.