Hours after a New Orleans civil court judge ordered him to undergo a psychiatric evaluation as part of a lawsuit filed against him by his daughter and her children, Saints and Pelicans owner Tom Benson declared in a statement that he is looking “forward to taking this test.”
“I have instructed my attorney Phil Wittmann to bring forth this medical exam of me as soon as possible,” Benson’s written statement said Tuesday. “I look forward to putting this behind us and moving on.”
Benson added that the legal proceedings opened up against him by his daughter, Renee; his granddaughter, Rita LeBlanc; and his grandson, Ryan LeBlanc, “extremely disappointed him,” as they allege the Saints and Pelicans owner’s mental capacity is inadequate to manage his own business assets.
But “I must state right now that it has only strengthened my resolve to defend what I have built,” said Benson, 87, who aside from his sports franchises owns various businesses in Louisiana and Texas. “(They are) the very businesses from which those that have brought (this legal battle) have benefitted.”
New Orleans civil court Judge Kern Reese on Tuesday determined three different physicians would evaluate Benson to see whether he is still fit to make decisions about the Saints, Pelicans and other assets in his business empire.
Feuding with the relatives he has decided to cut out of his succession plans, Benson had resisted the idea of a medical evaluation. He said he was willing to meet privately with Reese, but his lawyers argued that a psychiatric exam was too intrusive.
Reese ruled Benson would undergo the evaluation after a 90-minute hearing Tuesday.
The New Orleans lawsuit against Benson was lodged after the billionaire revealed around Jan. 21 that he wanted to alter a succession plan that would have made Renee, Rita and Ryan the principal heirs to his sports franchises and other assets.
Instead, Benson has said he wants to leave everything to his third wife, Gayle, whom he married in 2004.
Benson has justified the switch by saying that for years he has steadily lost faith in his ousted heirs’ professional competence and by citing what he perceived to be their poor treatment of Gayle.
Rita, Renee and Ryan in their New Orleans lawsuit contend that Benson is not mentally capable of making such drastic business decisions. They have defended their professional records by detailing their accomplishments in various parts of Benson’s business empire before they were abruptly fired as employees: Rita as an executive with the Saints and the Pelicans; Ryan with a hunting ranch and auto dealerships; Renee with all of those businesses as well as some banks.
At Tuesday’s hearing, Reese rejected a request from Benson urging the judge to toss Renee, Rita and Ryan’s lawsuit, which the family patriarch said lacked any merit.
“I respect the Honorable Kern Reese’s decision today, as I know he had a tough decision to make,” Benson said in his statement.
Tuesday’s hearing followed a Texas judge’s order that ex-San Antonio mayor Phil Hardberger and local attorney Art Bayern jointly take over the decision-making of a trust set up to benefit Renee and her children for at least the time being. Benson had been the steward of the trust, and the ruling from Bexar County Probate Court Judge Tom Rickhoff came after he was asked to address a temporary restraining order that had been put in place to prevent Benson from taking further action to remove business assets from the trust.
A lawyer for Renee, Rita and Ryan attempted to introduce Rickhoff’s order as evidence that there was valid concern about Benson’s ability to tend to his business matters, but Reese did not allow that, saying it was not relevant to the issues being argued in New Orleans.
No one from the Benson family attended Tuesday’s hearing in New Orleans.