Pictured from left, Tom Benson, Gayle Benson, Renee Benson, Rita LeBlanc and Ryan LeBlanc

Randy Smith, a lawyer who represents Tom Benson’s daughter, Renee, and her two children, Rita and Ryan LeBlanc, issued a statement Sunday reiterating his clients’ belief that the Saints owner was “unduly influenced” by others when he decided to leave his sports franchises to his wife, Gayle, rather than his now-estranged heirs.

Smith indicated that he was irked by some recent stories, including one published Sunday in The New Orleans Advocate, that suggested that Tom Benson had long harbored doubts about Rita LeBlanc’s ability to oversee his sports empire after his death. LeBlanc had been groomed to replace Benson as owner and face of the two franchises before Benson’s abrupt announcement Wednesday that instead, his wife would take over as owner upon his passing. The announcement came several weeks after Benson sent his heirs a curt letter telling them of his decision to remove them from any role with any of his business interests.

Smith’s clients sued in Civil District Court the next day, asking a judge to find Benson incapacitated and to appoint a guardian to oversee his business affairs. The suit is pending.

Smith sent an abbreviated version of his statement to The Advocate. The full text was sent to our partners at WWL-TV.

It reads as follows:

“Thank you for your journalistic interest in the recent events concerning Tom Benson. While we do not want to try this matter in the press, we believe it is necessary to clear up some of the confusion and misinformation that has been spread regarding Tom Benson, Renee Benson, Rita LeBlanc and Ryan LeBlanc.

“In some quarters a narrative has been put forward that suggests that Tom Benson, after much deliberation, made a considered decision to reverse decades of plans to have Rita succeed him as the designated owner of the Saints and replace Rita with his wife Gayle.

“Instead, the evidence suggests that Tom Benson, in a weakened mental and physical state, was unduly influenced to suddenly sever all relations with his daughter and grandchildren.

“The irrationality of the recent moves is well demonstrated by the bizarre communications and acts executing them.

“The coup began with a letter sent purportedly by Tom Benson which severs all relationships with his daughter and grandson, as well as his granddaughter Rita. The letter does not display a reasoned choice to change corporate governance, but a lashing out at those closest to him.

“A business decision to replace a long-standing member of a team is not sent on the Saturday after Christmas by email in an oversized font with no letterhead.

“A thoughtful personnel change does not ban the discharged employee’s mother and brother from public buildings.

“A thoughtful personnel change does not cause a daughter and grandson to be abruptly fired from their management of completely different businesses.

“A thoughtful personnel change does not result in immediate threats of repossession of vehicles.

“A thoughtful personnel change does not yield the reversal of years of estate planning and demands upon a long standing trustee to swap hundreds of millions of dollars of assets for worthless promissory notes.

“All of these disturbing acts suggest that Tom Benson has been manipulated.

“We are confident that once all of the evidence has been brought to light that it will be clear that this attempted coup is not in the interest of Tom Benson, who is as much of a victim as his daughter and grandchildren, is not in the interest of the fans of the Saints, Pelicans and Voodoo, and is not in the interest of the State of Louisiana or the City of New Orleans.

“On behalf of Renee, Rita and Ryan I would like to express appreciation to all those who have expressed their support over the past few days. As Renee, Rita and Ryan work to protect Tom Benson and his legacy, they ask for your prayers and thoughtful consideration. Respectfully, Randy Smith.”