Attorneys on both sides of the lawsuit pitting Saints owner Tom Benson against the officials overseeing a group of trust funds for his estranged relatives believe they are close to finalizing a settlement first heralded this summer, according to court records filed Wednesday.
The case is scheduled to be tried at the federal courthouse in New Orleans on Feb. 6, but an agreement that would render the trial moot should be "completed in the near future," according to documents prepared by lawyers representing both Benson and the trustees.
The documents — which requested deadline extensions for certain preliminary filings — said that failing to agree on a settlement would be "an unlikely event."
Saints and Pelicans owner Tom Benson needs to increase his offer to reclaim nonvoting shares…
The new disclosure comes several weeks after it was revealed in court records that the NFL would recommend that other team owners allow Benson to borrow an amount of money as much as 50 percent above the league's $250 million team debt limit to aid efforts to settle the case.
The question at the center of the lawsuit, filed in March 2015, is whether Benson is offering assets of equal value — as required by law — in exchange for business assets he wants to remove from trusts set up for his daughter, Renee Benson, and her children, Rita and Ryan LeBlanc.
Among the assets he wants to reclaim are nonvoting shares in the Saints as well as Benson's other pro sports franchise, the NBA's Pelicans.
The case was first set for trial in June, but U.S. District Judge Jane Triche Milazzo took it off the docket to allow more time for settlement talks.
However, that process proved more complex than expected, and two months later the settlement remained unfinished. Milazzo at that point put the case back on her trial calendar, a step seen by some as a way to put pressure on both sides to reach a deal.
The lawsuit is part of a feud that erupted publicly in January 2015 when Benson, a two-time widower, decided he would leave control of the Saints and Pelicans to his third wife, Gayle, while excluding his other relatives from all of his business and personal affairs.
The dispute also led to a failed suit in New Orleans Civil District Court challenging Benson's mental competency as well as a since-settled suit in state court in San Antonio over control of a family trust fund in Texas.
Benson has cut off communication with his daughter and her children, who once served as executives under him but were fired as the family rift became public.