Twenty-two lawyers showed up to a suburban Boston courtroom today to argue over whether Sumner Redstone was in his right mind when he removed two of the trustees who will control the 93-year-old mogul's media empire if he becomes incapacitated or dies.
There were so many lawyers seeking to speak on behalf of the ousted trustees and members of the Redstone family that probate Judge George Phelan asked them to stand up and be counted. It was almost as if the fates of two multibillion-dollar companies were at stake -- and they are. Through the trust, Redstone has controlling shares in both CBS and Viacom.
The hearing was held in leafy Canton, Mass., far from New York City boardrooms and the Beverly Hills home where Redstone receives round-the-clock care. It took place there because it is where Redstone, a Massachusetts native, organized the trust. To the surprise of no one, Redstone, who has not appeared publicly for a year, did not attend the hearing.
Lawyers for the removed trustees, Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman and director George Abrams, say Redstone is mentally incompetent and barely clinging to life -- and that it was Redstone's daughter Shari who pulled the strings to have their clients removed.
Attorney Les Fagen, representing Abrams and Daumann, argued for expediting the case because Sumner Redstone is the key witness in answering the question of his competence, and may not be able to answer questions for long.
Fagen argued that Redstone is so ill he would need to be institutionalized were it not for the round-the-clock care he receives. He said Redstone "is very sick," and repeated the contention from a court filing Monday that Redstone cannot speak, stand, walk, eat, write, or read.
He added that Redstone uses a feeding tube and a "tube that controls phlegm and saliva."
"Into this tragedy steps Shari Redstone," said Fagen. "Last fall, she re-entered Mr. Redstone's life after a long estrangement. She has taken control of virtually every aspect of his life and home... She has isolated him from the people who are closest to him with respect to his businesses."
Fagen said those confidantes include Abrams, who advised Redstone and his theater-owner father for half a century, and Dauman, who worked for Redstone for 30 years and was expected to be a pallbearer at his funeral. Fagen said Sumner and Shari Redstone "had a bitter and hostile relationship for years," before she swept in and began isolating her sickly father from the people he trusted most.
Shari Redstone's attorneys have asked to move the case to California, because that's where her father makes decisions about the trust. Fagen argued that a medical examination would be necessary to determine whether the elder Redstone is, indeed, making his own decisions.
Sumner Redstone's 34-year-old granddaughter Keryn Redstone also contends that she has been isolated from from him. Her attorney, Thomas Paul Gorman, said in court that she has not been allowed to see him in months.
Keryn Redstone also filed a declaration challenging medical records released last week that suggested Sumner Redstone was in relatively good mental and physical condition. Keryn Redstone said the documentation was "one-sided, misleading and contrary to the evidence..."
Before arguments began, the judge noted the preponderance of male lawyers standing before him.
"I was wondering why there were not more female attorneys with us," said Phelan. "I suppose that's a question for another day and another time."