The estranged daughter of Saints and Pelicans owner Tom Benson will assume control of a Texas trust fund previously overseen by her father after a Texas judge on Friday approved an agreement settling a legal battle centering around the fund, officials said.
That was the outcome Renee Benson hoped for when she sued for control of the fund 13 months ago, in the beginning stages of a public family feud.
The fund contains assets worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
“My client is very pleased,” Bennett Stahl, an attorney for Renee Benson, said Friday about an agreement whose conditions have been kept largely confidential.
Tom Benson’s attorney, Phil Wittmann, said Renee won’t be able to do anything “outside of the ordinary course of business, such as paying bills,” until unspecified assets involved in the complex family battle are “reorganized.”
No details about the reorganization and the specific assets involved were available Friday.
The fund in question was created by Renee’s mother, the late Shirley Benson, the twice-widowed Benson’s first wife. Originally meant to benefit Renee, with her father as its overseer, the trust has shares in a family-owned Texas bank, car dealerships and real estate, but it has no stock in Benson’s New Orleans sports teams.
Renee Benson sued for control of the fund around the time her father, now 88, revealed he was cutting her and her children — Rita and Ryan LeBlanc — out of management of his $2 billion business empire, firing them as employees in the process.
Benson also announced that he eventually wanted to leave control of all his businesses to his third wife, Gayle, instead of his daughter and grandchildren, as he had long planned.
When she sued for control of the trust, Renee Benson accused her father of acting in ways that damaged the fund, such as missing routine bill payments. She asked that he be permanently removed as overseer.
Bexar County, Texas, Probate Court Judge Tom Rickhoff temporarily suspended Tom Benson as overseer of the trust a year ago and ordered two receivers to manage the fund until the dispute was resolved.
Representatives of Tom Benson and Renee Benson agreed on a settlement last month. Each side presented Rickhoff written orders specifying how the agreement would be implemented, and the judge signed off on them, Stahl and Wittmann said.
While the terms of the settlement are secret, it came out during Friday’s hearing that Tom Benson had ceded control of the fund to Renee, Stahl and Wittmann said.
The dispute before Rickhoff wasn’t the only litigation spurred by the Benson family feud. After Benson cut off his relatives, they challenged his mental competency with a lawsuit, arguing that the octogenarian had been manipulated into changing his succession plans by Gayle Benson and others while his mind and body faded.
Orleans Parish Civil District Court Judge Kern Reese ruled in favor of Tom Benson. Renee and her children appealed, and the Louisiana 4th Circuit Court of Appeal could announce a decision in the next two weeks, Wittmann said.
Another case in the Benson feud is pending in New Orleans’ federal court. It involves a group of family trust funds that contain nonvoting stock in the Saints and Pelicans.
Wittmann said negotiations for a potential settlement in that case are continuing. “Mr. Benson wants to get all of this litigation behind him and enjoy the rest of his life,” Wittmann said.
Stahl said, “Renee, as always, loves her father and continues to care about his well-being.”