New Orleans Saints

Louisiana Supreme Court denies appeal of Tom Benson's competency ruling



BILL HABER/ASSOCIATED PRESS/2014New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson
BILL HABER/ASSOCIATED PRESS/2014New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson

The Louisiana Supreme Court on Monday said it will not consider a request from the estranged relatives of Tom Benson to overturn a judge’s ruling last year that the Saints and Pelicans owner was mentally competent when he altered his succession plans.

The twice-widowed Benson announced in January 2015 that Gayle, his third wife, would inherit his businesses upon his death, cutting out his daughter, Renee Benson, and grandchildren, Rita and Ryan LeBlanc.

Renee, Rita and Ryan — once tapped to be the heirs — then sued Benson, now 88, alleging that their billionaire family patriarch had been manipulated by interlopers into jilting his relatives while he was enfeebled.

Benson countered that the decision was his alone and in the best interest of his sports teams and other businesses. Following a closed-doors trial last summer, Orleans Parish Civil District Court Judge Kern Reese sided with Benson, who was questioned privately by Reese but not interrogated by his relatives’ attorneys.

The relatives appealed, saying it was improper for them to be ruled against without having a chance to interrogate Benson for themselves. But the state 4th Circuit Court of Appeal affirmed Reese’s decision in February.

The relatives then appealed to the state Supreme Court, questioning whether the appeals court misinterpreted the law cited in upholding Reese’s ruling.

Yet the Supreme Court on Monday opted against listening to the appeal. One judge, Justice Scott Crichton, wrote in a concurring opinion that he believed Reese had acted within the wide discretion he is afforded in these types of cases.

The Supreme Court was the last venue in which the relatives could challenge Benson’s plans to eventually leave control of his business empire to Gayle, unless the relatives make a separate appeal on constitutional grounds in federal court. The relatives’ lead New Orleans attorney, Randy Smith, did not immediately comment on whether his side was inclined to do that Monday.

For his part, Benson attorney Phil Wittmann said he was pleased with the high court’s decision and he considered the case “over.”