Competency ruling appealed by heirs of Saints, Pelicans owner Tom Benson

Thursday June 25th, 2015

The daughter of New Orleans Saints and Pelicans owner Tom Benson and her two adult children filed an appeal of a ruling that Benson was mentally stable enough to continue running those franchises and his other businesses.

The appeal was filed at the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia.

"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.

Three psychiatrists evaluated the mental stability of Benson after his daughter, Renee, and her two children sued him after he announced that his wife, Gayle, will succeed him as the owner of both teams. The previous plan had called for his granddaughter, Rita Benson LeBlanc, to take over ownership.

Benson said he made a "deliberate, reasoned and difficult decision" when he decided on the future of his businesses and called the lawsuit filed by his daughter and grandchildren “completely meritless."

Benson’s relatives had said he was in declining mental and physical health. Benson had been seen using a wheelchair and walker while moving around after several knee surgeries, but asserted he was otherwise healthy.

After an eight-day trial, a judge ruled in favor of Benson.

The testimony included two of the psychiatrists saying that Benson had sustained “a mild cognitive impairment that has impacted his short-term memory, but did not rob him of his own volition and his ability to make reasoned decisions."

The appeal is based on the contention that Benson should have testified in his competency trial.

Tom Benson's attorney, Phil Wittmann, said that Benson was not obligated to testify in the case and that the burden of proof to prove Benson’s incompetence was on his estranged heirs.

"They didn't even come close," Wittmann said to the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

Benson, 87, has owned the Saints for the past 30 years and bought the Pelicans in 2012 from the NBA.

- Scooby Axson

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