By Keach Hagey
Emails cited in a California court case shed new light on Shari Redstone's battle with top Viacom Inc. executives and tensions with her father, media mogul Sumner Redstone, in the years leading up to a power struggle over the family's business empire.
The emails, which haven't been previously reported, have surfaced in a legal fight regarding more than $150 million Mr. Redstone gave to two former female companions, Sydney Holland and Manuela Herzer. Mr. Redstone sued in 2016 to reclaim those gifts.
In countersuits filed this fall, the women have alleged Ms. Redstone spied on them and is behind Mr. Redstone's suit, with Ms. Holland's complaint citing the emails.
The emails help illuminate how Ms. Redstone pushed for more influence at Viacom and detail her expectation that she may have to sue to protect the empire against former Viacom Chief Executive Philippe Dauman. And they suggest she feared that as her father's ties to the two women grew closer, she and her family would be sidelined and, as she wrote, he would ensure "we are all left with nothing and that his little sluts get it all with no interference from us."
Mr. Redstone, 94 years old, controls CBS Corp. and Viacom, owner of networks like MTV and the Paramount movie studio, through the holding company National Amusements Inc. His health declined markedly in recent years, triggering controversy over the governance of his companies.
When the dust settled, Ms. Redstone emerged as the victor while Mr. Dauman was ousted. She moved into her father's old office and overhauled the Viacom board, on which she serves as vice chairman.
With the emails being aired to public scrutiny and current and former executives at the media companies being deposed, the legal conflict has the potential to become a distraction as Ms. Redstone tries to turn around long-troubled Viacom.
"Shari Redstone has only fought to protect her father and family's legacy," said Rob Klieger, an attorney for Mr. Redstone. "Unfounded allegations and snippets of out-of-context emails contained in a cross-complaint do not reflect reality, and we are confident the legal process will bring this to bear."
As part of a deal stemming from Mr. Redstone's 2002 divorce, Ms. Redstone had the right to succeed her father as chairman of the companies, but ultimately declined to take that title when her father gave it up last year.
For many years, Ms. Redstone was considered her father's heir apparent. But the two were clashing by 2007, and Mr. Redstone said the boards of CBS and Viacom should choose his successor. She remained on the companies' boards, and the emails indicate she pushed for influence behind the scenes.
"Plant the seed in my father's head that he should address the board on behalf of both of us," Ms. Redstone wrote in an email to Ms. Holland in 2011. She added, "With him not going to board meetings etc. we really need to present ourselves as one."
By 2012, Ms. Redstone was locked in a power struggle with Mr. Dauman, her father's confidant, over changes to Mr. Redstone's succession and estate planning.
"This is nothing more than a calculated move by Philippe to oust me from the company, and limit my role going forward," Ms. Redstone wrote in a draft letter to her father that she shared with Ms. Holland for advice. She added to Ms. Holland, "In the meantime every email my father sends to me will be used against me in court if I ever have to take Philippe on."
The emails also shed light on the collapse in 2014 of a deal in which Mr. Redstone would have bought out Ms. Redstone for $1 billion. The discussions started after a series of health crises that summer that left Mr. Redstone with a feeding tube and barely able to speak.
By then, the relationship between Mr. Redstone's companions and his daughter had deteriorated, in part because Mr. Redstone had given the women $45 million each in a single day in May 2014.
Shortly after those gifts, Ms. Redstone emailed her children saying, "I am reviewing legal options. I am going after them regardless of the strength of the case enough is enough."
Mr. Redstone pressed his daughter to sign releases as part of the buyout deal that would protect his companions from litigation, but Ms. Redstone refused, according to Ms. Holland's complaint. The emails suggest that her refusal frustrated her son, Tyler Korff, who wrote to an undisclosed recipient: "She's going to be suing the women (and getting no money back), she's going to be suing Philippe (who supposedly says he won't enforce the agreement naming her chairman)."
Over the next few months, Mr. Redstone ratcheted up the pressure on his daughter to sign the releases, threatening to bar her and her children from his funeral if she didn't, according to the Ms. Holland's complaint. The buyout talks fell apart.
Ms. Redstone says in the emails that she hired a private investigator in 2014 to investigate the women and began receiving reports from a nurse who was helping to take care of her father in his Beverly Park, Calif. mansion. The nurse had come to her out of concern that the women were abusing her father emotionally and financially, according to Mr. Redstone's earlier complaint.
In her complaint, Ms. Holland alleges that nurses loyal to Ms. Redstone secretly "eavesdropped and periodically recorded" her private conversations with Mr. Redstone and his counsel, among others, and shared them with Mr. Korff.
In emails cited in the suit, Ms. Redstone says that she hadn't ordered any surreptitious taping -- which is illegal in California -- and didn't want any recordings sent to her directly.
Write to Keach Hagey at [email protected]