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Saints, Pelicans owner Tom Benson confident as trial closes

NEW ORLEANS -- New Orleans Saints and Pelicans owner Tom Benson expressed confidence on his way out of the courtroom Friday as the eight-day trial to determine his mental competency came to a close.

The judge will issue his ruling by next Friday at the latest, but Benson said, "Aw hell, I already know the decision. I could tell by his face."

Benson, 87, was sued by his daughter, Renee Benson, and grandchildren Rita LeBlanc and Ryan LeBlanc in January after he announced plans to oust them as successors to his vast business empire and replace them with his third wife, Gayle.

The billionaire owner did not testify during the proceedings, which were closed to the media and public to protect Benson's medical information.

When asked if the trial has taken a lot out of him, Benson said, "Ahh, no, man. You know, it's not fun, it's not any fun. To have your kids turn against you, that's for the birds."

When told of those comments, the attorney for Benson's jilted heirs said, "If he said that, that's sad. They're not against him, they're for him."

Benson's daughter and grandchildren have claimed that his mental and physical health have diminished and that he has been under the undue influence of Gayle, whom he married in 2004.

"My clients (are) here as I've said before because they love Tom Benson," attorney Randy Smith said with Renee, Rita and Ryan by his side, declining comment. "They want to protect him. They want to protect their family, the fans, the businesses, the employees. All three of them are lifelong members of Tom Benson's family. They've been in his businesses since they were teenagers. They're committed to doing the right thing."

The jilted heirs have argued that Benson's sudden decision to cut them out of his life late last year followed a pattern of irrational behavior after he had been grooming them to take over his businesses for years. Benson and his attorneys, meanwhile, have argued that his decision was years in the making -- that he had repeatedly attempted to groom them but they never "rose to the task." Sources have also detailed a contentious relationship between Gayle and the jilted heirs.

Though Benson did not testify, he was ordered to undergo psychiatric testing by three medical experts -- one chosen by each side and a third that was agreed upon by the first two doctors. The neutral expert, Dr. Kenneth Sakauye from the University of Tennessee, was called to the stand by Benson's defense team rather than the plaintiffs.

Among others who testified were Gayle, Renee, Rita, Ryan and Saints and Pelicans president Dennis Lauscha.

Attorneys for both sides expressed confidence in the process, which was overseen by New Orleans Civil District Court Judge Kern Reese -- though an appeal will likely follow any decision made next week.

The mental competency case is the major obstacle that Benson faces in his desire to cut his former heirs out of his businesses. However, there are also separate cases ongoing that involve multiple issues over family trusts in both New Orleans and San Antonio, Texas. Benson owns several business in the San Antonio area, where Renee and Ryan currently reside. The biggest issue in those cases is whether Benson will be able to replace shares of the teams with assets of equal value.