Judge receives Benson psychiatric report, sets hearing

NEW ORLEANS (AP) A confidential report on the mental health of New Orleans Saints and Pelicans owner Tom Benson has been submitted to a civil judge.

Orleans Parish Civil District Court spokesman Walt Pierce said Thursday that Judge Kern Reese has set a June 1 hearing to address the report's findings, which will not be released publicly in an effort to preserve Benson's right to keep his medical condition private.

Reese ordered the evaluation, performed by a panel of three psychiatrists, as part of a lawsuit against Benson by his recently disowned daughter, Renee, and her two children Rita and Ryan LeBlanc.

The spurned heirs have asked Reese to declare the 87-year-old Benson mentally unfit to cut them out of ownership stakes in New Orleans' two major professional teams.

Benson announced in January that he wants his third wife, Gayle, whom he married in 2004, to inherit full control of his teams as well as other business interests such as car dealerships, a FOX-affiliated television station in New Orleans and real estate that includes a downtown office high-rise.

The panel of psychiatrists included one doctor chosen by each side and a third doctor agreed upon by the other two. Reese ordered the evaluation on Feb. 10. The psychiatrists concluded examinations of Benson around March 13 and then spent an additional two-plus weeks finishing their report for Kern.

Meanwhile, Tom and Gayle Benson attended the most recent NFL owners meetings together in March.

The family dispute has spawned a series of civil lawsuits in both state and federal court in New Orleans as well as state court in San Antonio.

While Tom Benson has asserted that his daughter and grandchildren still stand to inherit hundreds of millions of dollars from him, his spurned heirs have stated that their lawsuits are aimed at preserving their patriarch's legacy and preventing him from being isolated from family and unduly manipulated by his wife as he gets older.

In the Texas case, a judge has temporarily suspended Tom Benson as trustee for a 1980 trust that his first wife, Shirley, set up for Renee Benson. That trust does not contain shares of the Saints or Pelicans, but does involve a Texas bank and San Antonio-area car dealerships which Tom Benson wants removed from his daughter's control.

In federal court, Tom Benson has sued a man overseeing more recently established irrevocable trusts which hold shares of the pro sports franchises for Renee Benson and her two children.

Tom Benson has sought to substitute a mix of assets worth more than $550 million, and comprised mostly of promissory notes, into those trusts so he can extract all shares in his pro teams. However, the trustee has so far refused such a swap, saying Benson has yet to verify that the assets he intends to swap in and out of the trusts are of equal value.

So Benson has responded by asking a federal judge to compel the trustee to approve the swap.

Yet the stakes appear highest in civil district court in New Orleans, where a victory by the plaintiffs - if upheld on appeal - would force Tom Benson to relinquish control of his business empire to a person appointed by a judge.

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