Tom Benson intends to appeal a San Antonio court’s decision to oust him as steward of a Texas trust set up for his now-estranged daughter, according to court documents filed Wednesday.
Attorneys for the owner of the New Orleans Saints and Pelicans have filed a notice of appeal with the Bexar County Probate Court in San Antonio. The notice does not give a specific reason for the appeal, which will be filed with the Texas 4th Court of Appeals in San Antonio.
One of Benson’s attorneys, Phillip Wittmann, declined to comment beyond Wednesday’s filing. The appeals court will set a schedule for filing briefs as well as a hearing date later.
Bexar County Probate Court Judge Tom Rickhoff this month appointed a former mayor of San Antonio and a local attorney from that city to jointly take over a trust set up for the benefit of Tom Benson’s daughter, Renee Benson. The move effectively removed Tom Benson as the trust’s steward, at least for now.
Rickhoff ordered former Mayor Phil Hardberger and lawyer Art Bayern to jointly take over decision-making responsibility for the trust. The order authorizes them to “take and have complete and exclusive control, possession and custody” of the trust and the assets held within it. It also allows the receivers to hire or fire any officer, contractor, employee or agent of the trust.
The trust includes shares in Bensco Inc., which owns several car dealerships, a 97 percent interest in Lone Star Capital Bank, about $5 million in cash and real estate in Louisiana and Texas. That includes the Benson family ranch in Johnson City, north of San Antonio.
The trust is part of a bitter dispute between Tom Benson and Renee Benson — who, along with her children, was cut from future dealings with the Saints and Pelicans or any of Benson’s other assets last month. Tom Benson, twice-widowed, announced last month that he was making his third wife, Gayle, his successor.
In response, Renee Benson asked a Texas court to freeze the assets in a trust created for her by her mother, Shirley Benson, who died in 1980.
Rickhoff appointed Hardberger and Bayern after listening to a day and a half of testimony about whether Tom Benson was still mentally fit to make decisions about the trust’s assets.
“Judge Rickhoff suspended the trustee and appointed the co-receivers after hearing testimony from several witnesses over two days,” Bennett Stahl, an attorney for Renee Benson, said. “His decision is supported by the evidence and the applicable law. I see no reason why Judge Rickhoff’s order should be reversed on appeal.”
Renee Benson is also seeking in Orleans Parish Civil District Court to have her 87-year old father declared mentally unfit to make business decisions. That case is before Judge Kern Reese, who has ordered Tom Benson to undergo an evaluation by three doctors, including a geriatric psychiatrist.