A judge ruled on Thursday that the 87-year-old billionaire who owns the New Orleans Saints may continue to control the National Football League team he has owned for 30 years after denying a petition by his daughter and two grandchildren to have him declared mentally incompetent.
Tom Benson, who also owns the National Basketball Association’s New Orleans Pelicans, prevailed in the case following an eight-day trial that pitted family members against him in a New Orleans courtroom.
In a six-page ruling, Orleans Civil District Judge Kern Reese said that in addition to considering psychiatric evaluations of Benson by three physicians and hearing testimony from witnesses for both sides, he had personally interviewed Benson in April to assess his condition.
During that meeting, “Tom Benson had clarity of thought and volition, despite some memory lapses...,” Reese wrote, adding that he had “listened carefully” to Benson’s responses “and concluded the capacity to make reasoned decisions was present.”
Benson’s daughter Renee Benson Benham and two grandchildren, Rita and Ryan LeBlanc, filed the lawsuit in January claiming that Tom Benson is “infirm” and “unable to consistently make reasoned decisions” regarding his assets.
The suit charged that Tom Benson’s third wife, Gayle, has blocked family members’ access to him and is manipulating his decisions.
The family’s action followed Tom Benson’s move in December last year to ban their participation in running either of his teams, and to name Gayle Benson as his successor in owning the teams.
Thursday’s ruling does not end the family battle, as related litigation continues in a probate court in San Antonio, where the family members are fighting Benson’s attempt to remove their ownership shares in the sports teams and other businesses from trusts created over a period of years for their benefit.
Benson’s lawyers have also brought a related suit in federal court in New Orleans.
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