June 24, 2015

NEW ORLEANS (AP) The daughter and grandchildren of Tom Benson are appealing last week's ruling that found the Saints and Pelicans owner mentally competent to make his own business decisions.

The appeal from daughter Renee Benson and her children, Rita LeBlanc and Ryan LeBlanc, was filed Wednesday.

''Although we have the utmost respect for the Court, the refusal of Tom Benson's counsel to allow Tom Benson to take the witness stand further evidences Tom Benson's diminished capacity and serves to suppress the truth,'' said Randall A. Smith, their attorney, in a statement Wednesday.

''Our clients are therefore appealing in particular the denial of multiple requests to question Tom Benson before and during trial, or to apply an adverse presumption for his refusal, the failure of which was compounded by the admission of many alleged statements attributed to Tom Benson by his direct employee, his wife, and their lawyer. We are further appealing the reliance by the Court upon only select portions of the testimony, including certain opinions of physicians who employed insufficient methodology and applied improper standards.''

Tom Benson's attorney, Phillip Wittmann, in a telephone interview Wednesday said he was not surprised by the filing. ''After all, what else could they do?'' he said.

''We believe we made the right decision,'' in keeping Benson off the stand. ''They had no right to call him to the stand and he had every right to refuse to take the stand. They had a very heavy burden of proof that they did not meet.''

Orleans Parish Civil District Judge Kern Reese ruled last Thursday that Benson remains competent to run his nearly $2 billion business empire. The ruling legally upholds Benson's decision nearly six months ago to place his third wife, Gayle, first in line to inherit control of his NFL and NBA teams and other businesses - including auto dealerships, a bank, TV station and real estate holdings - instead of the recently disowned heirs, who'd been groomed for many years to take over.

The jilted heirs sued in January, asking Reese to rule that their patriarch was mentally unsound and being unduly manipulated by his wife - in concert with top Saints and Pelicans executives - when he changed his succession plan.

''Renee, Rita, and Ryan love their father and grandfather and hope the courts will eventually appoint a curator and undercurator to grant Tom Benson the protection he needs,'' Smith said. ''Although understanding that as long as the record is sealed their actions may not make sense to some, they feel compelled to bring the strong evidence presented at trial of a significant and ongoing infirmity to the appellate court for review. In years past, Tom Benson observed contemporaries in similar states of mental decline and urged his family to act for him if he ever found himself in such a vulnerable state.''

Renee Benson, 59, is Tom Benson's only living child and worked in his businesses for decades.

Rita LeBlanc, 38, began working for the Saints full time in 2001 and assumed an executive role with the Pelicans as well after her grandfather bought them in 2012.

Ryan LeBlanc, 35, managed some of his grandfather's businesses, primarily in Texas.

Gayle Benson, 68, is a former interior decorator who married Tom Benson in 2004.

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