Lawyers for the three relatives Tom Benson once had tapped to inherit his sports teams but has now cut off reiterated in court documents filed Wednesday that it is “clearly” necessary for the 87-year-old billionaire to be examined by a geriatric psychiatrist because his physical and mental state is in dispute.
Tom Benson’s granddaughter Rita LeBlanc, his daughter Renee Benson and his grandson Ryan LeBlanc allege the Saints and Pelicans owner has exhibited “a pattern of bizarre behavior,” and they request that psychiatrist Dr. Ted Bloch be allowed to examine him in a confidential setting.
The relatives’ lawyers, Randy Smith and Stephen Gelé, entered a motion in writing asking that Benson be made to show cause on Feb. 10 why he should not be checked out by Bloch, who graduated from LSU medical school in 1989.
Bloch has been certified with the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology in geriatric psychiatry since 1995, according to the filing. He was recertified in August 2008.
It’s up to Civil District Court Judge Kern Reese to decide whether to grant the request for an examination.
Asked whether his side had any response to the latest filing, Phillip Wittmann — one of Benson’s lawyers — called it “premature,” saying it would be better to wait until the court ruled on separate documents the Saints and Pelicans owner put into the record earlier arguing that his relatives had no grounds to question his mental state.
“Until we get a ruling on (that), I don’t think any medical examination should go forth,” Wittmann said. “That’s the issue we’re going to bring up” on Feb. 10.
In a separate motion, Smith and Gelé urged the court to let their firm’s runners personally serve Benson with the lawsuit filed last week that alleged he was not sound enough mentally to make his own business decisions.
Given the nature of the proceeding, they said, Benson had to be personally served with the documents spelling out what Rita LeBlanc, her mother Renee Benson and her brother Ryan LeBlanc are pursuing: to have Renee Benson named to handle her father’s business decisions, in part because she is his next of kin.
Although the Sheriff’s Office had previously failed to serve the documents, a source with knowledge of the situation said Benson was served with his relatives’ suit at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday at his office in the Saints’ and Pelicans’ administrative headquarters in Metairie. Benson was conducting a meeting with his senior staff on future Pelicans ticket pricing plans when he accepted the service of the suit.
The source said Benson and the server politely shook hands and shared a brief laugh as Benson held up the envelope containing the suit and jokingly asked the room, “Do I have to read this whole thing?”
The petition Benson was handed is 27 pages long. Exhibits in support of the claims in the petition occupy another 40 pages.
The source said Benson’s advisers facilitated the service Wednesday.
Benson’s camp has maintained he continues to have final say and weigh in on all decisions involving the Saints and the Pelicans despite recent stomach and knee procedures.
Benson’s lawyers say age alone isn’t an indication that someone is having mental problems, and they contend the surgeries prove he is seeking to attain the best health possible after suffering a few setbacks.
Rita, Renee and Ryan disagree. They say they suspect Benson is being manipulated by others into altering a succession plan that would have made them the primary inheritors of the Saints, Pelicans and other businesses. Benson last week proposed his new heir should be Gayle Benson, whom he married in 2004.
One of the pieces of evidence the relatives have offered is a Dec. 27 letter informing them they were banished from speaking to Benson or showing up at any of his businesses ever again. It was typed in enlarged font, had no official letterhead (though it was signed “Tom Benson”) and didn’t sound as if it was written by the family patriarch, setting off alarms, they said.
Benson later fired his three former heirs as employees of his family’s companies.
On Wednesday, another of Benson’s lawyers — Paul Cordes — said he witnessed Benson sign the Dec. 27 letter. It was prepared at Benson’s mansion in Uptown New Orleans, and he sent it after consulting with multiple members of his brain trust, Cordes said.
Wittmann added it’s typical for Benson’s emails to go out with large font. “It’s not unusual at all,” he said.
Wednesday’s filing by Smith and Gelé came one day after Benson and his lawyers argued in writing that Rita LeBlanc, Renee Benson and Ryan LeBlanc had no legal basis to challenge the Saints and Pelicans owner’s wishes to switch his succession plan, asking for a dismissal instead.