LOS ANGELES (CN) — A trial challenging the competency of Sumner Redstone to make his own health care decisions opened Friday with the release of an 18-minute deposition of the ailing mogul.
Redstone's ex-girlfriend and former caretaker Manuela Herzer filed a petition in Los Angeles County Superior Court late last year, claiming the 92-year-old majority shareholder of CBS and Viacom was mentally incapacitated when he ousted her from a Sept. 3, 2015, advance health directive and booted her from his mansion.
Redstone's attorneys meanwhile say that Redstone is capable of making his health care decisions and that aside from a severe speech impediment, his thinking is lucid.
After opening arguments Superior Court Judge David Cowan cleared the press from the court so he could view with the parties in private a video deposition taken of Redstone on Thursday by Herzer's attorney Pierce O'Donnell.
During his opening, the Greenberg Glusker Fields Claman & Machtinger attorney said that he was disturbed by Redstone's mental state when he took the deposition, noting that Redstone struggled to answer questions and could not remember his birth name.
In parts of the transcript shown to the court, Redstone repeatedly responded to questions about Herzer by calling her a "fucking bitch."
O'Donnell pointed to that as evidence of the mogul's dementia. Buit Redstone's attorney Robert Klieger told the court that is was not uncharacteristic of his client.
Though reporters were barred from watching the video, a transcript of the May 5 video deposition recorded at Redstone's Beverly Park Terrace mansion was released on Friday morning.
The interview started awkwardly after O'Donnell asked Redstone if he knows Herzer.
"She is — Manuela is a fucking bitch," Redstone replied, according to the transcript of the 18-minute video deposition.
Throughout the course of the interview, an interpreter told O'Donnell to repeat questions and also asked Redstone, who appeared to be having difficulty speaking, to try to "slow down."
O'Donnell asked how Herzer left his Beverly Park mansion.
"I kicked her out," Redstone said.
"When Manuela was here, did she assist you with your health care?" O'Donnell asked later.
"Yes," Redstone said.
After O'Donnell concluded, Redstone's attorney Gabrielle Vidal of Loeb & Loeb asked him some questions:
"Mr. Redstone, how do you feel about Manuela now?" Vidal asked.
"I hate her. Fucking bitch," Redstone said.
"Do you want Manuela to make health care decisions for you? " Vidal asked.
"No," Redstone said.
"If you are unable to, Mr. Redstone, who would you like to make your health care decisions? " Vidal asked.
"Shar — Shari," Redstone answered.
"Is that correct? I understood you to say, Shari," Vidal asked.
Redstone confirmed that he wants his daughter to make the decisions.
But during his opening argument, O'Donnell said Redstone did not have the capacity to make that decision. Herzer had remained an enduring friend and confidant of Redstone's, he said, even after their romance ended with Herzer refusing Redstone's marriage proposal.
"Your honor, this is a modern-day love story," O'Donnell said.
The attorney said that the testimony of Dr. Stephen Read, a physician who examined Redstone on Jan. 29, would show that he has a "major neurocognitive disorder" and did not understand the consequences of removing Herzer as his health care agent.
"Lost to us is a titan of the media world," O'Donnell said, with Herzer sitting close behind him.
Redstone's daughter Shari was also in the packed courtroom in downtown Los Angeles, seated next to her son Brandon Korff.
They listened as O'Donnell suggested that she had resolved to get rid of Herzer and move back into the house to regain control of Redstone's affairs. He claimed that Redstone was living in a "virtual prison."
O'Donnell said that whether Judge Cowan decided after the bench trial to reinstate Herzer or that someone else should take over, it should not be Shari Redstone — a woman whom her father had sometimes "loathed."
"One thing is certain. Shari Redstone should never be allowed to be her father's health care agent," O'Donnell said.
But Klieger said that Redstone, who is both "reviled" and "loved," still has the highest standard of care and knew exactly what he was doing when ejected Herzer from his home.
"There's nothing delusional about removing someone who's not going to be part of your life from your health care directive," the Hueston Hennigan attorney said.
He said that testimony would show that Herzer, not Shari Redstone, wanted to control Sumner Redstone's life and by implication his vast estate.
Herzer worked with Redstone's former girlfriend Sydney Holland to convince Redstone that his family no longer wanted anything to do with him even though the family members were trying to make contact, Klieger said.
"They told him that they were the only ones who loved him," the attorney said, describing Herzer and Holland's conduct as "classic emotional abuse."
Cowan has said he is mindful of the need to protect Redstone's privacy and that the focus of the trial should be on the legal issues. He repeated that mantra before closing arguments began.
"It is my duty to uphold his dignity," Cowan said of Redstone.
Herzer's probate petition, filed in November 2015, claims Redstone was incapacitated when he revoked the advance health directive.
According to Herzer, Redstone — who is worth more than $5 billion — was under the "undue influence" of his estate planning attorney Leah Bishop when a new health care directive was created on Oct. 16, 2015.
Herzer describes herself as Redstone's "longtime friend, companion and caretaker" and says she moved into his home more than two years ago. She says she began to take care of his medical needs after his five-year relationship with Holland came to an end last year.
The trial is scheduled for four full days and three half days on the sixth floor of the Stanley Mosk courthouse.
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