Louisiana Record

Friday, August 23, 2019

Appeal over Saints owner's competency claims he should have testified in court

By John Breslin | Mar 25, 2016

NEW ORLEANS – New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson faces further court action after his daughter and grandchildren filed an appeal challenging lower courts’ rulings that the billionaire is mentally competent to run his sports teams.

The appeal against the ruling was filed Wednesday with the Louisiana Supreme Court, an attorney for the estranged family members said in statement issued to the Louisiana Record.

Orleans Civil District Judge Kern Reese ruled in June 2015 Tom Benson is competent to make decisions about his business affairs, including those relating to the Saints and the Pelicans basketball franchise. The 4th Circuit Appeals Court upheld that ruling last month.

His daughter, Renee Benson, and grandchildren, Ryan and Rita LeBlanc, who are trying to wrestle control of the franchises from Benson, argue the 88-year-old should have testified in court during the seven-day closed trial. Benson met privately with Reese.

In his statement, attorney Randall A. Smith said the lower court created a new privilege when it ruled Benson did not have to testify in the proceedings. This is contrary to existing law, Smith said.

“If not overturned, the rulings of the lower courts will permit the truth to be concealed by manipulation of those in a weakened state,” Smith argued.

“We hope that the Louisiana Supreme Court hears our appeal so that the elderly and infirm can be protected under the law.”

He added, “Renee, Rita, and Ryan love and miss Tom Benson very much and will continue to try to protect him through this appeal.”

This appeal is one of a number of legal actions the family is embroiled in over a fortune estimated by Forbes at $2.2 billion.

Benson, his daughter and grandchildren last month settled a dispute over the control of a trust set up in the name of Benson’s first wife, Shirley. Assets under control of the trust include car dealerships and a bank. Under the agreement, Renee Benson took over as trustee of the fund.

Separately, Benson is attempting to take over another trust, this one controlling assets that include the Saints and the Pelicans.

At a hearing last week, a federal judge ruled Benson can be deposed and questioned, but limited the amount of time he can be grilled, to a total of five hours over two days. He is to begin his deposition March 28.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph Wilkinson ruled Benson’s deposition be limited to two separate two-and-a-half hour sessions, in accordance with a doctor’s advice.

“Defendants will not be prejudiced by this time limit because Benson’s certified public accountant and various of his other business and legal representatives" are also being deposed, Wilkinson found.

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