Benson family power struggle laid bare in lawsuit over Saints owner’s mental competence _lowres

Associated Press photo by BILL HABER - New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson poses for a photo with his wife Gayle Benson and his granddaughter, Rita Benson LeBlanc, before an NFL football game against the Minnesota Vikings in New Orleans Sept. 21, 2014.

The Louisiana Supreme Court on Friday denied a bid by the estranged relatives of Tom Benson to unseal some of the court records in a mental competency case they filed last year against the Saints and Pelicans owner.

Attorneys for Benson’s relatives had argued that the “blanket seal of the record” ordered by Orleans Parish Civil District Court Judge Kern Reese violates the public’s right to access court records and unjustly hinders the parties involved from speaking freely about the dispute.

But the Supreme Court said it wouldn’t even consider whether it should overturn Reese’s decision.

In a concurring opinion accompanying Friday’s ruling, Justice Scott Crichton wrote that it was right for Reese to permit the sealing of documents filed in the case, noting that the matter relied “heavily” on protected medical information.

Crichton also said Reese had “good cause” to bar the public from accessing hearings in the case.

A separate appeal from the relatives remains pending at the Supreme Court. That appeal seeks to overturn the rulings by Reese and the state 4th Circuit Court of Appeal siding with Benson’s claim that he is mentally competent to control his billion-dollar business empire.

The twice-widowed Benson announced in January 2015 that Gayle, his third wife, would inherit his businesses, cutting out his daughter, Renee Benson, and grandchildren, Rita and Ryan LeBlanc.

In the lawsuit that followed between Tom Benson and his relatives over his mental health, Reese ordered that both his courtroom and the record of the case would be sealed. The judge ultimately sided with Tom Benson.

Renee Benson and her children appealed, but a 4th Circuit Court of Appeal panel upheld Reese, prompting the Supreme Court appeal.

Tom Benson’s relatives had asked the 4th Circuit to unseal part of the case record, but they were unsuccessful there as well, despite insisting that all of the family patriarch’s medical records would remain confidential. They argued that parts of the record could be relevant to other legal cases involving Benson.

In one of those cases, Benson is asking a federal judge to let him remove various business assets — including nonvoting shares in the Saints and Pelicans — from trust funds that benefit the relatives. In return, he would add other assets that he claims are of equal value.

Benson and his daughter earlier this year settled yet another case centering around control of a family trust fund established in Texas before Benson bought his sports teams.