A panel of appeals judges in Texas has rejected Tom Benson’s request for an expedited review of a lower court’s decision to temporarily oust the New Orleans Saints and Pelicans owner as steward of a trust established for the benefit of his estranged daughter.
Benson’s lawyers, in a motion filed Monday, had asked the Texas Fourth Court of Appeals in San Antonio to speed up the usual 60-day briefing schedule, in part citing significant legal costs. They wanted oral arguments set for seven days after his daughter, Renee Benson, files a brief in the appeal.
But Fourth Court of Appeals Justices Karen Angelini, Luz Elena D. Chapa and Jason Pulliam denied the request on Wednesday without explanation. The order — signed by Chapa — did state, though, that the judges would “look unfavorably” on any requests for more time to file briefs.
“Any such motion must provide evidence of extraordinary circumstances justifying the extension,” the order said.
It continues, “The panel assigned to author the opinion in this appeal will determine whether oral argument will be heard and, if so, will set a date for oral argument after (Renee Benson’s) brief has been filed.”
Benson is appealing a decision made Feb. 9 by Bexar County Probate Court Judge Tom Rickhoff, who put the trust in question under the oversight of ex-San Antonio Mayor Phil Hardberger and Art Bayern, a local attorney.
In paperwork outlining why his side wanted an expedited appeal, Benson’s lawyers said Hardberger and Bayern are each charging the trust $600 an hour — or a total of $9,600 daily — to handle decision-making responsibilities.
The trust will never recover whatever money is ultimately paid to Hardberger and Bayern, Benson’s lawyers argued.
Benson’s lawyers also contended that Rickhoff’s decision was legally problematic, partially because the probate court judge did not consider remedies that were less “harsh” than appointing new overseers for the trust. Benson’s lawyers made it clear that their motion for an expedited review of Rickhoff’s decision did not contain all of the grounds for their appeal of the ruling.
The trust at the center of the dispute includes shares in Bensco Inc., which owns several car dealerships, a 97 percent interest in Lone Star Capital Bank, about $5 million in cash, and real estate in Louisiana and Texas. It became part of a bitter legal clash between Tom Benson and Renee — who, along with her children, was nixed in January from future dealings with the Saints, Pelicans and other assets.
Tom Benson, twice widowed, instead wants his third wife, Gayle, to inherit the reins of his business empire when he dies.
Part of Renee Benson’s response to being cut off by her father was to ask a Texas court to freeze the assets in a trust created for her by her mother, Shirley Benson, who died in 1980.
Separately, Renee and her children filed a lawsuit in New Orleans civil court seeking to have the 87-year-old Benson declared mentally unfit to make his own business decisions. Three physicians were chosen Wednesday to conduct a court-ordered mental evaluation, and they are expected to report their findings around mid-March.