In documents filed late Friday, Tom Benson’s lawyers said the Saints and Pelicans owner is prepared to provide “ample evidence of (the) personal and business failings” of the relatives he has cut out as heirs if a lawsuit they’re pursuing against him isn’t dismissed.
“Mr. Benson should not have to publicly identify their cruelties, inabilities and indiscretions to justify his business decisions,” the filings said in reference to his estranged heirs, daughter Renee Benson, granddaughter Rita LeBlanc and grandson Ryan LeBlanc.
“Mr. Benson has spent (his relatives’) entire adult lives shielding their shortcomings from the public view. Should this litigation be allowed to continue (and it should not) ... evidence ... will easily show why Mr. Benson’s decision finally to part ways with these individuals was a reasoned — indeed, wise — decision.”
Prepared by lawyers Phillip Wittmann, James Gulotta Jr. and Matthew Almon, the documents then reiterate the position that Renee, Rita and Ryan lack a legal basis for their suit’s purpose, which essentially is to have the 87-year-old Benson declared mentally unfit to take what they consider to be such a drastic business decision.
Benson in January revealed that he wished to change the 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 wanted to leave everything to his third wife, Gayle, whom he married in 2004.
Benson purchased the Saints in 1985. He bought the Pelicans in 2012, when they were known as the Hornets.
After being fired as employees of all the Benson businesses and learning of the altered succession plan, Rita, Renee and Ryan filed a suit in Orleans Parish Civil District Court that basically alleges the family patriarch is being unduly influenced by interlopers to switch things around while in a weakened mental and physical state.
Benson has said in court filings that he resolved to change his succession plan only after years of observing the incompetence of his daughter and children. He also has said he didn’t appreciate the way Ryan, Rita and Renee treated Gayle after he married her.
The daughter and children have vehemently defended their competence, detailing in court filings the accomplishments they’ve had in various parts of the billion-dollar Benson business empire — Rita as an executive with the Saints and Pelicans, Ryan with several car dealerships as well as a hunting ranch near San Antonio, and Renee with all of those and some banks as well.
“Tom Benson’s daughter and grandchildren ... have devoted their entire lives and careers to upholding and advancing the businesses and enterprises that Tom Benson lovingly founded or furthered so many years ago in an effort to try to make him proud,” the relatives have said in court filings. “To be clear, money has never been the motivating factor to Renee, Rita or Ryan. ... Instead, this (all) represents Renee, Rita and Ryan’s best efforts to protect their father and grandfather’s best interests and to continue their lifelong efforts to carry on his legacy.”
Benson’s lawyers in their filing Friday attacked that claim, saying the relatives are seeking to strip away Benson’s ability to make decisions concerning his property — if not regarding his person as well.
“What (Renee, Rita and Ryan) truly desire ‘to protect’ is their access to Mr. Benson’s money, not Mr. Benson,” Wittmann, Gulotta and Almon’s filing Friday said.
A hearing has been set for Tuesday in front of Judge Kern Reese.