A Family Argument
The Boston Globe/2005-02-25
By Steve Bailey
Sumner Redstone is a busy man. He is the creator of one of the great American media empires, Viacom Inc., owner of the CBS television network, cable channels like MTV and Nickelodeon, Paramount studios, Infinity Broadcasting, and Simon & Schuster.
His grandfatherly manner belies his tough-guy reputation as a businessman, with a take-no-prisoners style he first learned as a Jewish kid battling the Irish bullies on his walk to school in Brighton in the 1930s. He is worth $8 billion, according to Forbes magazine.
But if Redstone, 81, gets a minute, he should act like the big brother he is and call his little brother, Edward, 76. The message should be: Stop picking on your kid, Eddie. Michael's a good boy. Knock it off.
The Redstone boys have always played hardball, with each other or anyone who came between them and what they wanted. Sumner just played it so much better. He has famously battled former Viacom chief executive Frank Biondi and media giants like Barry Diller and John Malone. He plays for keeps, and he never forgets a slight, as he proved so entertainingly in his autobiography, "A Passion to Win."
Little brother Edward's battle with his son, Michael, though, could set a new hardball standard, even for the Redstones.
In a messy fight in Probate Court in Cambridge, Edward Redstone and his second wife, Madeline, sued to block a $6 million trust fund from going to Michael. They also asked to be compensated from three family trusts for the cost of raising his daughter, Ruth Ann, and her son, Adam. A judge recently ruled against them on all counts. Now the court is hearing arguments about who should pay the legal fees, which lawyers say run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The lawsuit opens a new wound in what Edward Redstone, a wealthy former banker, calls his "dysfunctional family."
The dispute centers on a series of trusts that Sumner and Edward Redstone's mother, Belle, established for her four grandchildren in 1959, according to the legal documents filed in the case. Sumner's children, Brent and Shari (who now runs National Amusements for her father), and Edward's children, Ruth Ann and Michael, were each named as beneficiaries.
But tragedy intervened. Ruth Ann disappeared in 1972 after joining a religious cult, the Children of God, during her first year at Brandeis University. Several years later, the family found her and hired a deprogrammer to work with her. But Ruth Ann escaped, and her family never saw her alive again. She turned up dead in Japan in 1987 at the age of 32. It was then the family discovered she had a son, Gabriel Adam, who was 3 years old at the time of his mother's death.
Edward Redstone and wife Madeline raised Adam as their own, and adopted him as their son in 2002. Redstone became both grandfather and father to Adam. "I, with Madeline, have spent more time with him 10-fold, 20-fold than I did with his mother [Ruth Ann] and uncle [Michael]," Redstone said in a magazine interview in 2003.
Tragedy would strike again, however. Last May Adam Redstone, an art student, was killed in a motorcycle accident in Los Angeles where he was going to school. He was 20 years old.
If he had lived, Adam was in line to eventually receive as much as $25 million from three trusts, says one lawyer familiar with the case. But his death has created a legal donnybrook. The lawsuit by Edward Redstone and his wife, filed just a month after Adam's death, names the trustees, Michael Redstone, his two cousins, and Sumner Redstone.
In the lawsuit, Edward Redstone says he and his wife are entitled to a "substantial part" of Ruth Ann's and Adam's estate. Redstone argues that because Ruth Ann and Adam both died early, the trust had "lapsed" and the money reverts back to the donor (Belle Redstone) and should be distributed according to her will, meaning the money would go to Sumner and Edward.
"Plaintiff Ed. Redstone is entitled to recover monies expended for the benefit of Ruth Ann Redstone," he says in his suit. The same goes for Adam's upbringing, he says.
Michael Redstone's attorneys argue the trust was intended for Belle Redstone's grandchildren, and not for her sons, and they say the money should remain in trust for Michael and his children. The court agreed. "The only possible explanation for his motivation to bring this suit is to inflict punishment on his son . . . with whom Edward's relationship has been tempestuous at best ever since he was a boy," Michael Redstone's attorneys say.
Neither Edward Redstone nor his lawyer, Joel Eigerman, returned my calls. Michael Redstone's attorney, Dan Bakinowski, would say only "that it has been a painful experience for the family." Said David Andelman, attorney for Sumner Redstone: "Sumner was only named because he was an original executor of the estate. He hasn't been involved in the matter at all."
Being Sumner Redstone's little brother can't be easy. In his book, Sumner says he and his brother are "close friends." But they have had their moments.
Start here: Sumner says mother liked me best.
"To be the national best at any- and everything was my mother's goal for me," Sumner Redstone wrote in his book. "There was only one number one and that had to be me. My brother, while he was smart and did extremely well in school, was not the target of her passion; I was. I was her pride and her focus."
Edward did not dispute that in a deposition he gave in connection with his lawsuit.
Q. How would you describe your relationship with [your mother]?
A. I mean, do you have a couple of days?
Q. Actually, I do.
A. I see you work by the hour. My family basically it was a dysfunctional family. It really was. And still is. I probably got along with her as well as anyone else got along with her. She was a nervous wreck and I don't know what else to say.
Edward also lost out to Sumner for control of the family business. Sumner went to Harvard Law School and became a lawyer. Edward went into the family drive-in theater business, National Amusements, which their father, Mickey, started.
But when Sumner later joined the business, his father quickly turned over the operations to him, Sumner says in his book. "To my sorrow, this caused some tension between Edward and me, which was understandable, but my father clearly wanted me to run the company and be his successor. So essentially I took over." Sumner denies he "eased my brother out of the business."
In his deposition, Edward tells the story differently. "I was leaving the business, there was much animosity, at least on my part. I was under duress just to get out. Tremendous duress. And frankly I signed everything that would be put in front of me just to get away from them."
Edward Redstone left the family business to become a banker. He was chairman of First Bank in Chelmsford and owner of Martha's Vineyard National Bank. The Lowell Sun called him "a father figure in the Greater Lowell business community for many years." He and his wife now live in Rancho Mirage, Calif. Meanwhile, his son, Michael, went to work for Sumner at National Amusements.
Writes Sumner: "Eddie's son, my nephew Michael, was a difficult child and for many years was estranged from his parents. I had a lot to do with bringing Michael up, literally forcing him to go to college and then to get a business degree. Today Michael is a likable and productive employee of National Amusements. He is doing a great job and his parents and I are all proud of him."
That was four years ago before Adam's death, before the lawsuit, and while father and son were still speaking.