Benson family feud documents shed light on professional lives of lesser-known, estranged relatives _lowres

Pictured from left, Tom Benson, Gayle Benson, Renee Benson, Rita LeBlanc and Ryan LeBlanc

Tom Benson’s estranged relatives are insisting that he be evaluated by a professional psychiatrist, not a Civil District Court judge, to see whether he is still fit to make business decisions.

Benson said earlier this week that he would be willing to sit down privately with the judge overseeing a lawsuit between him and his relatives to prove that a full mental examination isn’t necessary. But in a new court filing Friday, lawyers representing Benson’s daughter and grandchildren say that would be “an end around” the proper procedure.

In a filing entered by lawyers Randy Smith and Stephen Gelé, the three relatives said they want a licensed, board-certified geriatric psychiatrist to assess Benson’s mental capacity — although they were careful to add that they “have the utmost respect for (the) court’s wisdom and perception.”

Benson’s relatives — daughter Renee, granddaughter Rita LeBlanc and grandson Ryan LeBlanc — have proposed an evaluation by Dr. Ted Bloch III as they fight to keep their place as heirs to the Saints, Pelicans and other assets in Benson’s lucrative business empire.

Benson’s lawyers have countered that any evaluation should be done by someone who is independent.

The filing from Smith and Gelé on Friday said Bloch is indeed independent, even though that is not actually required by law.

“Dr. Bloch attests that neither Mr. Smith, nor anyone else from his firm, has provided Dr. Bloch with any information regarding this case, aside from the name of the case,” the filing said. “Nor has Dr. Bloch been paid any money related to this case.”

The filing added that Bloch “attests that he has no preconceived notions of Tom Benson’s capacity.”

First certified with the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology in geriatric psychiatry in 1995, Bloch provided a signed affidavit for the record.

Meanwhile, in response to stated worries from Benson’s side about violations of his privacy should he submit to a mental evaluation, Smith and Gelé proposed a confidentiality order that would keep any medical documents relevant to the matter under court seal and out of the public’s hands.

Benson in January revealed that he wanted to alter a succession plan that upon his death would have made Renee, Rita and Ryan the principal heirs to the Saints, Pelicans and other businesses he owns in Louisiana and Texas.

Instead, the twice-widowed Benson said, he wants to leave everything to his third wife, Gayle, whom he married in 2004.

After being fired from all the Benson businesses and informed of the altered succession plan, Rita, Renee and Ryan filed a suit in Civil District Court that seeks to have the 87-year-old declared mentally unfit to make such drastic business decisions.

In their own filing Friday, Benson’s lawyers reiterated their position that Rita, Renee and Ryan’s suit “should be dismissed outright” because it does not state a valid cause for such an extreme step to be taken.

A hearing in the case has been set for Tuesday in front of Civil District Court Judge Kern Reese.