The two men appointed to oversee a Texas trust that Tom Benson was temporarily suspended from running have voluntarily withdrawn a lawsuit they filed against the Saints and Pelicans owner.
Former San Antonio Mayor Phil Hardberger said Wednesday that he and Art Bayern, an estate lawyer, took that step at the request of Bexar County, Texas, Probate Court Judge Thomas Rickhoff, who in February put them in charge of a trust set up for the benefit of Benson’s daughter, Renee.
“The judge basically told us to not go forward on that at this time,” Hardberger said.
Wednesday’s development constitutes a minor victory for Benson’s attorneys. They had vehemently objected to the suit Hardberger and Bayern filed March 2.
Benson’s lawyers alleged in court filings that Hardberger and Bayern had lodged the suit without obtaining prior approval from Rickhoff, and that it was beyond the scope of the powers they were given as managers of the trust.
Attorneys on both sides filed motions Tuesday in the federal court in San Antonio to dismiss Hardberger and Bayern’s lawsuit. U.S. District Judge David Ezra on Wednesday granted Hardberger and Bayern’s motion.
Hardberger said he and Bayern retain the right to reinstitute their suit at a future date but that they do not intend to do so unless Rickhoff directs them to.
The suit alleged that a group of trusts set up to benefit Renee Benson and her children owned half of a holding company for car dealerships controlled by Tom Benson. Tom Benson — whose side has criticized the fact that Harberger and Bayern are charging the trust a combined hourly rate of $1,200 for their services — claims that he personally owns the share of the company to which Hardberger and Bayern’s suit referred.
The trusts that Hardberger and Bayern alleged owned half of the holding company are separate from the one the two men are overseeing at the moment.
Bayern and Hardberger’s suit also had accused Benson of improperly trying to reacquire assets he had put in the trusts benefiting Renee and her children without replacing them with items of equal value, as the law requires.
The 87-year-old Benson in January announced that he wanted to bar his daughter and her children, Ryan and Rita LeBlanc, from any more dealings with his sports franchises and other businesses. The twice-widowed Benson had previously designated Renee and her children to be the primary inheritors of his business empire when he died, but he said he’d decided he wanted his third wife, Gayle, to eventually assume control of his various Louisiana- and Texas-based properties.
Ensuing legal tussling between Benson and Renee and her children has spurred civil actions in various state and federal courthouses in New Orleans and Texas.
One of the maneuvers from Renee was to ask a Texas judge to suspend her father as overseer of the trust set up by her mother, Benson’s first wife, Shirley, who died in 1980. Renee suggested decision-making powers over that trust be given to her.
The judge in February suspended Benson as overseer of the trust but did not give that role to Renee, assigning it instead to Hardberger and Bayern.
Tom Benson filed an appeal brief on March 6 but 12 days later asked to move the case to the federal system.
In explaining his wish to switch jurisdiction, Benson in part said Hardberger’s and Bayern’s involvement made for a different case than the one Renee originally brought against him. Hardberger and Bayern sued him personally, he noted, whereas Renee had filed suit against him only in his capacity as the overseer of the trust created by her mother.
Renee’s reply to Benson’s appeal brief was due Thursday, but she asked for that deadline to be pushed back indefinitely. Benson’s lawyers did not oppose that request.
Renee Benson’s lawyers said they need to focus on the federal proceedings for now. Should the matter be ordered back into Texas’ state court system at a future date, both sides have agreed to give the billionaire’s daughter at least two weeks to file a reply to the appeal, records show.