Rita LeBlanc, the granddaughter of Saints and Pelicans owner Tom Benson, believes she will remain a partial owner of her grandfather’s teams “no matter what happens” in the legal feud that has ensnared her family for well over a year, she recently told Street & Smith’s Sports Business Journal.
Benson this month settled a federal lawsuit in which he was seeking to recover nonvoting shares in New Orleans’ NFL and NBA franchises as well as other business assets that he had placed in trust funds benefiting his daughter, Renee; Rita; and his grandson, Ryan LeBlanc.
Benson is estranged from all three and has said he wants them to have no roles in any businesses under his control.
The terms of the settlement, which was announced June 17, are confidential, meaning it is unclear how much of the Saints and Pelicans stock at the center of the case may still be in the trust funds in question. The parties in the dispute are due back in court July 20.
Nonetheless, in a story that was written by the Sports Business Journal’s Bruce Schoenfeld and published online Monday, LeBlanc declared that in her view, “No matter what happens in the litigation, I’ll still be a partial owner.”
Longtime Benson attorney Phil Wittmann on Tuesday said the terms of the settlement prohibited him from speaking about the agreement. However, he said any stock in the teams which might remain in the trust funds benefiting LeBlanc and her relatives would be “a minority, nonvoting interest and essentially be inconsequential.”
“As far as we’re concerned, Rita LeBlanc is irrelevant at this point,” Wittmann said, noting that the controlling shares in the Saints and Pelicans remain in Benson’s sole possession. Benson plans to leave them to his third wife, Gayle.
LeBlanc also told Schoenfeld that she, her mother and her brother now control some family car dealerships in Texas that were part of a separate case that was settled earlier this year, also under confidential terms.
In that case, Renee Benson and her father agreed that she would take over control of a family trust fund established in Texas before his purchase of the Saints and Pelicans.
A family hunting ranch in Texas that was part of that same case also now seems to be under the control of Ryan LeBlanc. That business’ website no longer contains any mention of the twice-widowed Benson, though it does of his first wife, Shirley, the mother of Renee Benson and grandmother of Rita and Ryan LeBlanc.
LeBlanc told the Sports Business Journal that she still lives in New Orleans but regularly attends business conferences, which frequently are unrelated to pro sports. She said she isn’t “happy” but does consider herself “fulfilled” in her new lower-profile role.
“There’s miserable things in the press and miserable things that aren’t being reported,” LeBlanc told Schoenfeld, adding that she will “always love” her grandfather. “No family should have to go through this.”
Benson, now 88, once intended to leave control of his billion-dollar business empire to Rita, her mother and her brother. But in January 2015, he announced that he wanted Gayle Benson to inherit his businesses after his death.
He also revealed he was no longer on speaking terms with Renee, Rita or Ryan and had fired them from roles in his various businesses.
Of the three, Rita had held the most visible job, having been a high-ranking executive with the Saints and Pelicans.
The two settled cases formed part of a complex, protracted legal battle surrounding Benson’s decision to switch his succession plans. A third case saw Renee, Rita and Ryan challenge Benson’s mental competency to handle his own business affairs, alleging that interlopers had manipulated him into cutting out his relatives while in a weakened mental and physical state.
A New Orleans Civil District Court judge sided with Benson at the end of a closed-door trial last summer. Two higher courts have since left that ruling in place.
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Attorneys for Renee Benson and her children have hinted that another mental competency challenge in the future is possible. That challenge could partially be based on remarks Benson gave in a deposition during the federal lawsuit that was recently settled, comments that the lawyers for Renee, Rita and Ryan have argued were rambling and at times factually untrue.
Using points that are similar to the ones brought up in the mental competency challenge, Renee, Rita and Ryan could also eventually contest any will drawn up by Benson. A Benson adviser testified in the federal lawsuit that the Saints and Pelicans owner altered his will to one day leave control of his businesses to Gayle about the time that Renee, Rita and Ryan were cut off.
LeBlanc’s remarks in the Sports Business Journal appeared to be her first ones to the media since she briefly addressed reporters at the State Capitol in Baton Rouge in early 2015 while expressing support for Louisiana’s film subsidies program.