The Sumner Redstone saga continues. The 93-year-old billionaire is at the center of a power struggle for control of his media empire. Now it appears that a majority of the trustees of the trust that controls CBS and Viacom, support Mr. Redstone’s recent ouster of Philippe Dauman, formerly his heir apparent, and George Abrams, a longtime Viacom director. Mr. Dauman and Mr. Abrams contend that Shari Redstone, Sumner’s formerly-estranged, recently-reconciled daughter, is exerting “undue influence” over her father in encouraging or supporting the ouster. But if a majority of the trustees do in fact support the ouster, Mr. Redstone’s capacity may no longer be an issue as far as this part of the power struggle is concerned.
The fight over Mr. Redstone’s mental capacity has been nasty, brutish, and long, and it’s not over yet. Much of it could have been avoided if Mr. Redstone had put clear language into his trust about how to assess his mental capacity. As Georgiana Slade, an attorney familiar with the case, stated, “In drafting a trust like [the one that controls CBS and Viacom], you need very clear standards and protocols for determining capacity.” She also said, “The real question is, does someone have the capacity for the decision at issue? It’s one thing to be deciding what you want for dinner and something very different to decide who should be running a major corporation.”
The biggest issue for Mr. Redstone can be summed up in one word: ego. He never wanted to give up control, and he never wanted control to be taken away from him, so he made no provisions for what would happen if he lost capacity. “I have no intention of ever retiring, or of dying,” he stated at a conference in 2009. “That’s one thing I’ll never do … give up control of CBS or Viacom,” he said at the same event. So as you can see, an approaching train wreck was clearly visible years ago.
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