Tom Benson to testify in Saints, Pelicans ownership trial next week
Katherine Sayre of The Times-Picayune reports that Saints and Pelicans owner Tom Benson is expected to testify in federal court in New Orleans next week as the billionaire attempts to consolidate ownership of two prized Benson family assets solely in his hands.
If Benson, in fact, steps into the witness stand, it would mark the 88-year-old’s first public courtroom testimony since announcing last year that he was cutting his daughter and two grandchildren out of his life and intends to leave the NFL and NBA franchises to his wife instead (NOLA.com).
His estranged granddaughter Rita LeBlanc — who was being groomed to take over the teams until a dramatic family fallout in December 2014 — might also be called to the witness stand in a five-day trial that starts Monday (June 20), court records show. The two apparently haven’t spoken since Benson told Rita LeBlanc, his grandson, Ryan LeBlanc, and his daughter, Renee Benson, that he wanted no further contact and fired them from family businesses, banning them from the Superdome (NOLA.com).
Part of Tom Benson’s plan on leaving all of the teams to his wife, Gayle Benson, requires removing ownership shares in the teams from trust funds he created for Renee, Rita and Ryan when the family was still on good terms (NOLA.com).
The trial would settle Benson’s lawsuit against two San Antonio lawyers who are trustees over the estranged heirs’ trust funds. The lawyers, Mary Rowe and Robert
Rosenthal, questioned Benson’s financial maneuver and attempted to block it. Just how much of the Benson family drama will seep into the trial is unclear. The proceeding will likely be a technical affair focused on money, math, estate planning, and the business of sports. Renee, Rita and Ryan are not directly involved in the litigation (NOLA.com).
With four days left until the trial begins, the lawsuit could still settle out of court.
The verdict by U.S. District Judge Jane Triche Milazzo would decide who has a financial stake in the teams, although it won’t change who controls them (NOLA.com).
Tom Benson, Louisiana’s wealthiest resident — worth an estimated $2.2 billion — shuffled assets into a complex arrangement of trust funds for Renee, Rita and Ryan meant to shield his fortune from taxes after his death. That included 60 percent of the Saints and 95 percent of the Pelicans, all of which are non-controlling shares. Benson has remained in charge of the teams by owning all of the controlling shares (NOLA.com).
Tom and Gayle Benson were named in a lawsuit filed by Tom Benson’s former personal assistant, Rodney Henry, who claimed Gayle Benson made racially derogatory remarks and harassed him on the job. A federal judge ordered Henry’s claims to be heard in binding arbitration with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell (NOLA.com).
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