Tom Benson's ousted heirs appeal to state supreme court

Saints owners Tom Benson announced plans last year to oust his daughter and grandchildren as successors to his business empire and replace them with his third wife, Gayle. Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY Sports

NEW ORLEANS -- Tom Benson's estranged heirs are taking their battle against the New Orleans Saints and New Orleans Pelicans owner to the Louisiana Supreme Court.

So far, Benson’s daughter and grandchildren have been unsuccessful in their attempts to challenge his competency after he announced plans last year to oust them as successors to his business empire and replace them with his third wife, Gayle.

Benson’s daughter Renee Benson and grandchildren, Rita LeBlanc and Ryan LeBlanc, claim that the 88-year-old is in mental and physical decline and is being unduly influenced by Gayle, whom he married in 2004.

However, Benson was found to be competent in a New Orleans civil court last year, and the ruling was affirmed last month by a state appeals court.

Attorney Randall Smith has argued that Benson should have been required to testify in open court. Instead, Benson was questioned at his office by Civil District Court Judge Kern Reese with attorneys from both sides present.

“We hope that the Louisiana Supreme Court hears our appeal so that the elderly and infirm can be protected under the law,” Smith said in a statement. “Renee, Rita, and Ryan love and miss Tom Benson very much and will continue to try to protect him through this appeal.”

Benson said in a statement last month after the appeal was rejected: "I am hopeful one day soon that all of their ungratefulness will end and I can continue to enjoy my work with the Saints and Pelicans without further interference.”

There are also other court cases pending in their bitter legal battle.

Most importantly, Benson is trying to remove non-voting ownership shares in both teams from a group of family trusts, which is being debated in a New Orleans federal court. Benson can remove the teams if he replaces them with assets of equal value. But the trustees guarding the funds have rejected Benson’s attempted swaps that include mostly promissory notes.

Benson was recently ordered to face questioning in a deposition in that case for a total of five hours over the course of two days, beginning Thursday.