Closed-Door Appeal Court Arguments Held On Benson Competency

Tom Benson

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The daughter and grandchildren of 88-year-old Tom Benson went to a Louisiana appeal court Thursday with their fight to have the owner of the NFL's Saints and the NBA's Pelicans declared legally incompetent.

         A state civil court judge in New Orleans last year found Benson competent to run his nearly $2 billion business empire, rejecting arguments by Benson's daughter, Renee Benson, and her children, Rita LeBlanc and Ryan LeBlanc. The three family members want a three-judge panel of the state 4th Circuit Court of Appeal to order a new trial in the case.

         "Everyone knows our position is the trial court judgment should be reversed because we were denied the right to question Mr. Benson and a lot of hearsay was allowed," said Randy Smith, attorney for the family members challenging Benson's competency. The three family members, who attended the closed-door hearing, stood behind him as he spoke with reporters after the hearing.

         Benson attended the hearing also but was able to avoid the public eye while entering and leaving. "He came in through the back door," his attorney, Phil Wittmann said.

         Wittmann said the appellate judges asked questions regarding legal principles involved in Benson's not testifying at the original trial. "I thought the arguments went well," Wittmann said.

         Smith said the panel members indicated they would rule in about a month.

         The competency lawsuit is part of a variety of state and federal litigation, playing out in Louisiana and Texas, which began after Benson announced his decision to oust his daughter and her two children from ownership positions with the sports franchises.

         – by AP Reporter Kevin McGill



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