Ever since a protracted legal battle against her grandfather — Saints and Pelicans owner Tom Benson — erupted, Rita LeBlanc has kept a low public profile. But on Tuesday, she took a minute to describe how she’s been occupying herself since being fired from her job as a high-ranking executive with the Saints and Pelicans a few months ago.
“I’m advocating for the state of Louisiana,” LeBlanc told The Advocate after testifying in support of state subsidies for the film industry in front of a legislative committee in Baton Rouge. “The film industry is important. I’m serving on all my boards, doing anything that can help the state.”
As recently as last summer, the 87-year-old Tom Benson declared in a memo to the NFL that when he dies, his Saints ownership shares would go to Rita; her mother, Renee Benson; and her brother, Ryan LeBlanc. Rita, who had worked for the Saints for years, would be the face of the ownership group, the memo said.
It was widely assumed the situation would be the same with New Orleans’ NBA franchise, which Benson purchased in 2012.
But in January, the twice-widowed Benson announced he no longer wanted Rita, Renee or Ryan to be involved with the teams or various other businesses he owns in New Orleans and Texas, and had fired them as employees. Instead, Benson said, he wanted his third wife — Gayle, whom he married in 2004 — to inherit everything.
Rita, Renee and Ryan responded by filing a lawsuit seeking to have Benson deemed mentally unfit to make such drastic business decisions. The rift has since spilled over into various state and federal courts in New Orleans and Texas.
Aside from a prepared statement that she, Renee and Ryan released to some media outlets in March, Rita hasn’t said anything on the record about what her plans are if the dispute with her grandfather doesn’t work out in her favor. However, she has posted photographs on her Twitter account showing her at various charitable and professional networking events.
Tuesday was another such moment, when she urged the state House Ways and Means Committee not to alter Louisiana’s film tax credit program.
Supporters of the program say motion pictures filmed in Louisiana account for lots of jobs and gain the state invaluable exposure not attainable through other methods. Critics say the credits cost the state far more in lost tax revenue than it gains from the money spent by moviemakers.
Legislators are considering at least trimming down the subsidies that have cost taxpayers $1.3 billion over the past seven years while making Louisiana a more popular filmmaking locale than Hollywood.
LeBlanc is listed as a member of the New Orleans Film Society’s advisory board, and she belongs to the Louisiana Film and Entertainment Association.
— The Advocate’s Tyler Bridges contributed to this report.