Saints and Pelicans owner Tom Benson said Monday he is willing to resign as steward of a Texas trust benefiting his daughter, who earlier this year sued to have him removed from that capacity.
While the trust’s bylaws state that Benson’s daughter Renee is to inherit control of the fund if her father steps down, Benson said in a Bexar County, Texas, Probate Court filing that his resignation would not go into effect unless a judge appoints an independent party to oversee the trust.
It was unknown Monday whether a judge would accept Benson’s proposal, which is an effort to wrap up one front of a multipronged legal dispute pitting him against members of his family.
In the filing Monday, Benson’s attorneys said an impartial steward for the trust is necessary in view of the broader dispute between the billionaire and his relatives over his mental health and the future of his business empire.
Benson’s filing expressed disappointment at what he calls his daughter’s “ingratitude” over tens of millions of dollars he has loaned to the trust, some of which was used to purchase expensive homes and ranch land for Renee and her children.
Renee Benson has denied in recent court filings that the trust owes any money to her father, although she acknowledged at a proceeding earlier this year that it owes him more than $17 million.
The trust includes shares in businesses such as a bank and car dealerships — which Tom Benson will maintain control of however the Texas case is resolved — but no stock in the Saints or Pelicans.
Renee Benson asked to remove her father as overseer of the trust shortly before Benson revealed early this year that he was cutting his daughter and grandchildren out of his succession plans in favor of his third wife, Gayle.
Renee claimed her father had been making decisions that damaged the trust, such as not making routine bill payments, among other things. In February, Texas Probate Court Judge Tom Rickhoff temporarily suspended Tom Benson as steward of the trust, putting it under the control of two court-appointed receivers charged with preserving the fund’s assets until the case was resolved.
Each side in the case agreed in October to try for a mediated settlement, but no negotiation talks had been scheduled as of Monday. Benson’s daughter has insisted that he show up in person for such talks, an idea he has resisted.
Rickhoff recently told the two sides they had until Feb. 1 to work out a settlement or else go to trial. If neither happened, he said, he could appoint an independent party to begin actively managing the trust instead of simply preserving its status quo, as the temporary overseers have been doing.
After Tom Benson announced his plan to eventually leave everything to his wife, Renee and her children asked a Civil District Court judge in New Orleans to declare him mentally unfit to make business decisions such as removing them from his succession plans. They alleged he was being manipulated while in a weakened mental and physical state, something Benson’s side has consistently denied.
Judge Kern Reese found Benson, 88, mentally competent this summer, but an appeal of that ruling is pending.
On Monday, the New Orleans-based attorney who represented Renee and her children in the suit before Reese said Benson might be seeking to give up his role with the Texas trust only to avoid appearing at a trial or being forced to give a deposition.
“It is disappointing that Mr. Benson’s handlers wasted this entire year litigating his right to stay as trustee and only have allowed him to resign after it was clear that he would have to appear for deposition or trial,” attorney Randy Smith said in a statement. “Coupled with the recent termination of (Benson’s) longtime employee and confidante, Rodney Henry, and his increasing public isolation, we continue to be concerned that he is being separated from those who truly care for him and from the truth.”
Benson’s attorneys have consistently said the Saints and Pelicans owner is in charge of his own decisions and that no one is making him cut ties with his family against his wishes.
Meanwhile, mediation talks are set for mid-January in yet another lawsuit in federal court in New Orleans. Benson’s opponents in that suit are overseers of trusts benefiting Renee and her children that hold non-voting ownership shares of the Saints and Pelicans. Benson has proposed to replace those shares with other assets, such as secured promissory notes.
Note: This post was updated after it was first published to provide more information.