John Breslin Feb. 21, 2016, 10:44pm


NEW ORLEANS — The estranged daughter of New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson has gained control of a trust set up in the name of her late mother.

A San Antonio judge Friday signed off on a settlement reached between Renee Benson and her father.

The settlement gives Renee Benson control of the Shirley Benson Testamentary Trust, which has assets that include a bank, half ownership of five car dealerships in San Antonio and New Orleans, and real estate.

While a receiver appointed by Bexar County Probate Judge Tom Rickhoff estimated the trust’s worth at $1 billion, Renee Benson claims it is one-fifth of that amount.

The trust does not contain any part of the Saints or the NBA's New Orleans Pelicans basketball franchise, which Tom Benson also owns. These two are the subject of a separate federal lawsuit filed by Tom Benson against his daughter and her two children.

An initial agreement was reached on Jan. 22, 10 days before the trial in San Antonio was due to start.

The legal action began in January 2015 after Tom Benson announced that Renee Benson and her two children would no longer be involved in running his businesses. He also announced a change in his succession plans in favor of his third wife, Gayle Benson.

New Orleans attorney Robert Jenkins, who has followed the case, said it was not surprising an agreement was reached on the cusp of the trial.

“It’s an extremely important case for the citizens of New Orleans because you are dealing with one of the richest men in the state, and this involves the Saints and the Pelicans," Jenkins told the Louisiana Record.

People are worried that the lawsuits involving family members may impact the football and basketball teams, with the worst case scenario being one or both franchises may move to a different city, Jenkins said.

“It seems among the public most are in favor of Tom,” Jenkins said. 

The well-known defense attorney described the billionaire as a beloved figure in the city and state.

“Tom himself has said it’s very tragic, with a lot of infighting in the family that he does not want,” Jenkins said.

The action in San Antonio is one of three legal disputes between Benson and his estranged daughter.

In a lawsuit filed in New Orleans, Renee Benson claimed her father was not mentally competent to run his businesses, including the Saints and the Pelicans.

Following a trial in June, Benson was declared mentally competent. His daughter is appealing that ruling.

Tom Benson is also suing in federal court in New Orleans to remove part ownership in the Saints and Pelicans out of separate trust funds created for Renee Benson and her children, Rita and Ryan LeBlanc.

Tom Benson's attorney Phil Wittmann told the Times-Picayune newspaper progress is being made on a settlement in the lawsuit in New Orleans over ownership in the Saints and Pelicans. 

U.S. District Judge Jane Triche-Milazzo on Friday scheduled a hearing in that case for Feb. 25.

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