Psychiatrist testifies about Saints and Pelicans owner

NEW ORLEANS (AP) A psychiatrist who examined New Orleans Saints and Pelicans owner Tom Benson spent more than five hours testifying about the 87-year-old billionaire's mental health.

And he's not done.

Dr. Ted Bloch is one of three physicians who performed a court-ordered psychiatric evaluation, the results of which have been sealed.

He was called as a witness Thursday by the lawyer representing Benson's disowned daughter, Renee, and her children, Rita and Ryan LeBlanc.

The estranged heirs contend their ouster from ownership positions with the teams about five months ago resulted from their patriarch being manipulated by his third wife, Gayle, while he was mentally enfeebled.

''It was another important day,'' said attorney Randall A. Smith, who represents the jilted heirs. ''Dr. Bloch is a geriatric psychiatrist who has spent a lot of time on this matter and he's giving very detailed testimony.''

The courtroom has been closed to the public and participants are under a gag order, so they have avoided discussing the substance of evidence presented during trial.

Smith said he expected Bloch to compete his testimony Friday morning, after which he wasn't yet sure if the plaintiffs would rest their case.

Once they do, Tom Benson's lawyer, Phil Wittmann, could make a motion for a directed verdict, essentially asking the judge to agree that the plaintiffs have not met their burden of proof and that there is no need for the defense to present its case. If state Civil District Judge Kern Reese granted such a motion, it would end the trial, and Tom Benson's new succession plan would stand - at least pending any appeals.

''Things are dragging a little bit here,'' Tom Benson said after court adjourned Thursday. ''Long day.''

When the Pelicans owner was asked if he had a favorite in the NBA Finals beginning Thursday night, Wittmann jumped in, saying it would of course be Golden State - a nod to the fact that New Orleans recently hired top Warriors assistant Alvin Gentry as new head coach.

Then Tom Benson answered, ''I've got to be careful about that. Somebody might want to make a bet, you know.''

If trial does not conclude Friday, it is not scheduled to resume until Wednesday because of prior engagements some of the participants had scheduled early next week.

''It's a lot of testimony,'' Smith said. ''We knew this wouldn't be an easy thing, emotionally. It's really not an easy case. The testimony and the evidence is going pretty much the way we expected.''

It remains unclear if Tom Benson will take the stand.

''Ask him,'' Smith urged reporters.

When they did, Wittmann said he and his client won't answer that.

Louisiana law leaves that up to a judge in civil, mental competency cases, known in Louisiana as interdictions.

Benson has stated in casual comments outside court that he is ready to testify if called.

Rita LeBlanc testified more than eight hours this week. She has worked for the Saints since 2001 and since Hurricane Katrina had become one of the premier public faces of the franchise during ceremonies on game days or at events involving civic or business leaders. She has performed similar tasks for the Pelicans since her grandfather bought the NBA team in 2012.

Renee Benson, who is her father's only living child, testified Tuesday. Ryan LeBlanc began his stint on the witness stand late Wednesday afternoon and finished Thursday morning.

Gayle Benson, 68, married Tom Benson in 2004, and now is in line to inherit control of the teams and other Benson businesses - unless the judge decides otherwise after the bench trial. Almost always seen at Tom Benson's side in recent years, Gayle Benson has not attended the trial, which began Monday.

The other two psychiatrists who evaluated Tom Benson are John Thompson of Tulane University and Kenneth Sakauye of the University of Tennessee. Both have attended trial in case they're called to testify.

Because their report is sealed, it is unclear whether it came to definitive conclusions agreed upon by all three doctors, or how much weight their conclusions will have in trial.

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