Temporary overseers of Texas trust caught up in Benson dispute urge family to find ‘a peaceful resolution’ _lowres

Renee Benson appears in Bexar County Probate Court as Judge Tom Rickhoff holds a hearing on Tom Benson's assets. Wednesday, Feb. 4, 2015. ORG XMIT: B64147634Z.1

Entangled in a legal battle with her father, Renee Benson — the daughter of New Orleans Saints and Pelicans owner Tom Benson — has closed a restaurant she owns outside San Antonio.

A note on the Facebook page for Renee Benson’s Uptown Blanco Restaurant said it would be “temporarily closed for maintenance and repairs” for the next few months, beginning Monday. It added that the 7-year-old restaurant hopes to reopen in the future.

In a story published online Wednesday night, the San Antonio Express-News quoted a spokeswoman for Renee Benson as saying that she closed the restaurant because “it was not doing booming business, and Renee feels like she needs to focus on the legal case.”

The spokeswoman, Leslie Komet Ausburn, confirmed that was the case to The Advocate on Thursday.

“With everything that’s going on, she wants to focus on the issues at hand,” said Ausburn, adding that Renee Benson had enough money to make her employee payroll when she closed the restaurant.

The Benson family dispute pits Renee and her children against her father over the future ownership of the Saints, the Pelicans and other properties in Louisiana and Texas.

Renee Benson’s restaurant was part of a development she launched after her company, Uptown Blanco, purchased and renovated a city block’s worth of vacant buildings. Other businesses in the development include a textile studio and fabric shop, an art center and a concert hall. Those will all remain open, Ausburn said.

After the family feud became public in January, it came to light that Uptown Blanco owed Tom Benson about $17 million of more than $20 million that he had loaned to a trust set up for Renee Benson’s benefit.

Tom and Renee Benson also had set up a company called Renson that provided support services to the father’s car dealerships. That company still exists as a legal entity, but it has not been able to perform its work with the dealerships since the feuding among the Benson family began, said Bennett Stahl, a lawyer for Renee in Texas.

Tom Benson announced in January that he had decided to make his wife, Gayle, his principal heir, cutting off Renee and her children, Rita LeBlanc and Ryan LeBlanc, from any future dealings with his businesses.

Renee Benson responded in part by asking a Texas court to freeze the assets in a trust created for her by her mother, Shirley Benson, who died in 1980. Bexar County Probate Court Judge Tom Rickhoff decided this month to oust Tom Benson as steward of the trust and replace him with two independent managers.

Benson on Wednesday filed a formal notice that he intends to appeal the decision, which put the trust under the oversight of a former San Antonio mayor, Phil Hardberger, and a local lawyer, Art Bayern.

The trust at issue 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. The real estate includes the Benson family’s hunting ranch in Johnson City, Texas, north of San Antonio.

Hardberger on Thursday said he and Bayern had a meeting with one of the car dealerships’ general managers scheduled for Monday in San Antonio, but it was canceled after the manager indicated Benson’s lawyers had instructed him not to talk with the new overseers of the trust. The notice of the appeal of Rickhoff’s decision went on the record two days later.

Hardberger said he soon spoke with Benson’s lawyers, and they promised they would hand over documents and materials by Friday that would “answer most questions.”

Hardberger said he appreciated that and would review the information given to him but still would push for permission to conduct interviews. If not allowed to do that, Hardberger said, he would ask the court to compel Benson to give him and Bayern access to the people with whom they wished to speak.

Meanwhile, in Orleans Parish Civil District Court, Renee Benson also is seeking to have her 87-year-old father declared mentally unfit to make business decisions. That matter is before Orleans Parish Civil District Court Judge Kern Reese, who has ordered Tom Benson to undergo an evaluation by three doctors, at least one of whom will be a geriatric psychiatrist.


Staff writer Jaquetta White contributed to this report.