Renee Benson, the estranged daughter of Saints and Pelicans owner Tom Benson, should not be allowed to move a lawsuit against her father from a Texas federal court to a state one in San Antonio because her request is based on outdated law, among other reasons, Tom Benson’s lawyers argued in a court filing this week.
The filing is the latest move in a sprawling legal battle between Benson and his daughter.
Renee Benson sued her father in January in a San Antonio probate court to get him removed as steward of a trust set up for her benefit by her late mother, Tom Benson’s first wife.
Probate Court Judge Tom Rickhoff in February temporarily suspended Tom Benson as steward of that trust and assigned that role to former San Antonio Mayor Phil Hardberger and estate lawyer Arthur Bayern.
Tom Benson requested that his daughter’s lawsuit be transferred to federal court after Hardberger and Bayern asked Rickhoff to decide the ownership of assets in various Benson family trusts. Benson contended that Hardberger and Bayern’s request went beyond the scope of their duties. Hardberger and Bayern in the end withdrew their request, but the Saints and Pelicans owner did not drop his effort to move the case to federal court.
In subsequently arguing that it should be returned to state court, Renee’s lawyers accused Benson of looking for a judge who might rule in his favor more than Rickhoff has. They also said Benson had missed a deadline to get the case shifted to federal court.
On Wednesday, Benson’s lawyers said Renee’s lawyers were wrong on the deadline. They said Renee’s lawyers based their argument on an old law that permitted a case to be transferred to federal court within 30 days after the first defendant was served. An updated version of that law says cases can be shifted within 30 days of the last defendant being served, they said.
Benson’s lawyers argue that their client was served with Renee’s original lawsuit as an individual as well as in his role as overseer of the trust set up for his daughter. They said he wasn’t served in his individual capacity until March 2, just 16 days before he asked to remove Renee’s suit from Rickhoff’s courtroom.
Renee’s lawyers also have argued that Bayern’s and Hardberger’s attempted intervention can’t serve as justification for moving the case to federal court. Benson’s lawyers countered that there’s precedent for that in the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
U.S. District Judge David Ezra in San Antonio on Tuesday tentatively set a hearing on Renee’s motion to return the case to San Antonio state court for May 21.
Benson is trying to remove various assets, including nonvoting ownership shares in New Orleans’ NFL and NBA franchises, from a group of trusts set up for Renee and her children, Ryan and Rita LeBlanc. The trust in dispute in Texas’ federal court isn’t among the ones containing shares in the Saints or Pelicans.
Benson ultimately hopes to cut out Renee, Ryan and Rita as inheritors of a billion-dollar business empire in Louisiana and Texas so he can leave everything to his third wife, Gayle, when he dies.
His plan to make Gayle his successor has prompted civil actions in various state and federal courthouses in New Orleans and Texas.