A California judge is expected to rule Monday on whether to dismiss the lawsuit challenging media mogul Sumner Redstone’s mental competency after he signaled Friday that the petitioner faced an uphill climb. Both sides filed court briefs over the weekend to sway the judge to their side.
Manuela Herzer, an ex-companion and housemate of Mr. Redstone, the 92-year-old controlling shareholder of Viacom Inc. VIA 0.43 % and CBS Corp. CBS.A 1.18 % , claims he was mentally incompetent when he evicted her last fall and removed her as his health-care agent. She was also written out of his will.
After hearing a videotaped deposition of Mr. Redstone on Friday—in which the mogul, with the help of an interpreter, said he wanted Ms. Herzer out of his life and wanted his daughter Shari Redstone as his health agent—Judge David Cowan of Los Angeles Superior Court had said Ms. Herzer faced a significant burden to prove her claim.
Ms. Herzer’s lawyers argued in a brief Sunday that if the case is allowed to proceed, they will show Mr. Redstone was incapacitated and that he has come under the “undue influence” of others in his life including Ms. Redstone and staffers at his Beverly Hills mansion.
Ms. Herzer’s team called into question the deposition, saying Mr. Redstone appeared rehearsed on key questions and that the interpreter was the only one in the room at important moments who could understand things he said.
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“The Court cannot assume the he was expressing his true wishes and beliefs, particularly when those statements were only intelligible to his speech therapist,” Ms. Herzer’s lawyers wrote in the brief.
While her lawyers said the court doesn’t have to reinstate Ms. Herzer as health-care agent—the person designated to make decisions for Mr. Redstone when he is incapacitated—they also argued that Ms. Redstone shouldn’t have that position because she doesn’t have her father’s best interests at heart. They repeated claims that she used connections in the mansion to spy on Mr. Redstone and that her views on end-of-life medicine differ from her father’s. Ms. Redstone has denied those claims.
For its part, Mr. Redstone’s legal team said the mogul’s testimony on Friday—in which he referred to Ms. Herzer multiple times as a “f—ing bitch”—”could hardly have been clearer.” They argued that there is no evidence to show that he lacks capacity, nor any evidence to show that there had been undue influence on Mr. Redstone.
“There is not a scintilla of evidence that Mr. Redstone actually wants Ms. Herzer in his life but was unduly influenced to testify otherwise,” Mr. Redstone’s team wrote.
Judge Cowan signaled Friday that the defense’s case on the first day of the trial was compelling, particularly Mr. Redstone’s deposition. “How can I sit here and say, after listening to that video, you can’t have what you want?” Judge Cowan said. “I’m going to need to have evidence given to me that he does not know what he’s saying.”
The cast surrounding the media mogul has formed a web of alliances and antipathies
A dismissal of the case would end a monthslong Hollywood soap opera and prevent additional details about Mr. Redstone’s health and the inner workings of his empire from becoming public. If the judge does find enough reason to proceed with the case, and eventually rules that Mr. Redstone is incompetent, it could have major implications for Viacom and CBS. It could pressure Mr. Redstone’s associates to consider shifting his nearly 80% voting stakes in the companies into a seven-member trust, which is meant to control those shares when he is incapacitated or dies.
Keach Hagey at firstname.lastname@example.org and Joe Flint at email@example.com