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Sumner Redstone's Competence Questioned in Court Petition

11/25/2015 | 05:22pm US/Eastern
By Keach Hagey 

Sumner Redstone, the 92-year-old controlling shareholder of Viacom Inc. and CBS Corp., lacks the capacity to make decisions about his health care and can't follow even brief conversations or sign his name unassisted, his former girlfriend said in court documents filed Wednesday.

Manuela Herzer, who once dated Mr. Redstone and has in recent years lived in his Beverly Park mansion and helped oversee his medical care, was thrown out of the mansion last month and replaced as his health-care agent by Viacom Chief Executive Philippe Dauman. In a petition filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, Ms. Herzer alleges that Mr. Redstone was not of sound mind when this decision was made.

"I am convinced that if Sumner indeed signed anything himself that day, he lacked the mental capacity to understand what he was signing, much less the legal and practical significance of the documents he signed," Ms. Herzer said in the petition.

She asked the court to determine that Mr. Redstone lacked the mental capacity to remove her from her role in his health care in mid-October, and to find that he currently lacks the ability to make his own medical decisions, essentially triggering her role as the active agent of his care.

She also painted a picture of an elderly media mogul in rapidly declining health and estranged from his children, including his daughter, Shari Redstone, who serves as vice chairman of the boards of both Viacom and CBS. According to court documents, Mr. Redstone must be carried around the house, no longer reads or watches the financial news he once avidly followed, and is unable to talk "except brief grunted responses." Yet he remains "fixated on having sex on a daily basis" and eating steak, despite his doctor's warnings against both.

Mr. Redstone's attorneys responded forcefully to Ms. Herzer's petition on Wednesday with their own court documents, saying Ms. Herzer's application was all about her "personal financial agenda" and fears that she will be cut out of Mr. Redstone's will.

"Ms. Herzer's claim that she filed this lawsuit out of concern for Mr. Redstone is preposterous. It is a meritless action, riddled with lies, and a despicable invasion of his privacy. It proves only that Ms. Herzer will stop at nothing to pursue her personal financial agenda," said Gabrielle Vidal, an attorney at Loeb & Loebent, in a statement.

The subject of Mr. Redstone's health and mental competence has remained a topic of intense interest among Viacom and CBS investors, given his roughly 80% voting stake in each. Viacom investors have been particularly concerned, with the stock down about 30% so far this year.

Mr. Redstone controls Viacom and CBS through National Amusements Inc. Those interests will pass to his grandchildren and their descendants upon his death or if he is deemed incapacitated, according to a statement in May from Mr. Redstone.

A seven-person trust will manage the holdings by majority vote. The trust will include Shari Redstone; her son Tyler Korff; Mr. Dauman; David Andelman, a CBS board member; George Abrams and Norman Jacobs, lawyers who have worked for Mr. Redstone and his family; and Leonard Lewin, an attorney for Phyllis Redstone, Ms. Redstone's mother and Mr. Redstone's former wife.

Write to Keach Hagey at keach.hagey@wsj.com

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