Exam ordered for Saints, Pelicans owner Tom Benson

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Family Claims Tom Benson Mentally Unfit to Control Saints, Pelicans

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Saints and Pelicans owner Tom Benson must undergo a psychiatric examination, a judge ruled Tuesday as Benson's spurned daughter and her children fought to have the 87-year-old billionaire declared incapable of handling his affairs.

Civil District Judge Kern Reese ruled in a lawsuit filed by Benson's daughter, Renee, and her children, Rita and Ryan LeBlanc, that the examination must be complete by March 13. Each side in the case will choose one expert and the two sides will agree upon a third.

The lawsuit raises questions about Benson's mental and physical health and alleges that Gayle Benson, whom he married 10 years ago after the death of his second wife, has "systematically isolated" him from family, friends and advisers.

"We're disappointed," Benson attorney Phil Wittmann told reporters after the hearing. He had argued in court that that the efforts of Benson's child and her offspring were "the very embodiment of a fishing expedition" by relatives who were unhappy with competent and reasoned decisions by Benson.

"Your honor, Tom Benson changed his mind, and he had every right to do so," Wittmann argued.

Neither Benson nor his estranged relatives attended Tuesday's hearing. Randy Smith, lawyer for Renee Benson and her children, said it was "telling" that Benson has not attended court proceedings and has fought a court-ordered expert's examination.

"We just want an independent evaluation," Smith said outside the courthouse. "That's what my clients want because they're very concerned about the health of their father and grandfather."

The case marks the second time in a year that an NBA owner's mental capacity has been publicly questioned. After former Clippers owner Donald Sterling's disparaging remarks about blacks became public last year, his wife had him removed from the family trust that owned the team, which was later sold, because of questions about his mental competence.

Tom Benson has owned the Saints since 1985 and bought his NBA team in 2012, changing the name from Hornets to Pelicans in 2013. Rita LeBlanc, 38, has worked for the Saints in various roles since 2001, rising during that time to the level of part owner and executive. But weeks ago she was fired from the clubs. Her mother and brother, who also had been listed as part owners, were likewise removed from executive roles with the clubs.

Documents filed in the case indicated that the elder Benson broke off contact with them in late December.

Reese's ruling came a day after a Texas judge in a parallel case appointed two receivers to oversee a trust Benson established in that state for his daughter and her family. That order came over the objection of Tom Benson's Texas lawyers.

The Texas case involves control of assets in the San Antonio area, which include auto dealerships, a bank and ranch property. It does not involve the pro teams in Louisiana, but is part of the dispute that has come to attention the past month.

Smith referenced Texas Judge Tom Rickhoff's ruling in his arguments to Reese. "Judge Rickhoff, after hearing two days of evidence, expressed serious concern about the vulnerability of Tom Benson," Smith said, before being pointedly told by Reese that the trust issue was a separate matter.

Smith had asked Reese to appoint Dr. Ted Bloch III, a psychiatrist, to examine Benson. Reese said Bloch and an expert chosen by Benson's lawyers (they did not make their choice known Tuesday) plus a third expert agreed upon by both sides must examine Benson by March 13.

The family feud has generated buzz on social media and on the street in New Orleans.

"I think it's a shame that this family, this family business and its issues has to play out in the public," Charles Stiebing of New Orleans, a Saints fan clad in black and gold athletic gear, said as he ran laps around the Superdome last week. "It's very sad that all this would ever come out."


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Exam ordered for Saints, Pelicans owner Tom Benson
NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 28: New Orleans Pelicans and New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson (top row left) sits with his wife Gayle Benson during a game between the New Orleans Pelicans and the Denver Nuggets at the Smoothie King Center on January 28, 2015 in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 12: New Orleans Pelicans owners Mr. and Mrs. Tom Benson tip-off the NBA All-Star Weekend with a press event on February 12, 2014 at the Contemporary Arts Center in New Orleans. The Bensons along with Mark Romig, President & CEO of the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, New Orleans Host Committee Chairman Avery Johnson, Chef Susan Spicer, Event Designer Bronson van Wyck, and local musical artist Trombone Shorty were also on hand. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 12: New Orleans Pelicans owners Mr. and Mrs. Tom Benson tip-off the NBA All-Star Weekend with a press event on February 12, 2014 at the Contemporary Arts Center in New Orleans. The Bensons along with Mark Romig, President & CEO of the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, New Orleans Host Committee Chairman Avery Johnson, Chef Susan Spicer, Event Designer Bronson van Wyck, and local musical artist Trombone Shorty were also on hand. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 6: New Orleans Pelicans Owner Tom Benson listens to speakers as he and Smoothie King Owner Wan Kim announced today a multi-year agreement reached between the Pelicans and Smoothie King to name the New Orleans Arena the Smoothie King Center. on February 6, 2014 at the New Orleans Arena in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 12: New Orleans Pelicans owners Mr. and Mrs. Tom Benson tip-off the NBA All-Star Weekend with a press event on February 12, 2014 at the Contemporary Arts Center in New Orleans. The Bensons along with Mark Romig, President & CEO of the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, New Orleans Host Committee Chairman Avery Johnson, Chef Susan Spicer, Event Designer Bronson van Wyck, and local musical artist Trombone Shorty were also on hand.NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 12: New Orleans Pelicans owners Mr. and Mrs. Tom Benson tip-off the NBA All-Star Weekend with a press event on February 12, 2014 at the Contemporary Arts Center in New Orleans. The Bensons along with Mark Romig, President & CEO of the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, New Orleans Host Committee Chairman Avery Johnson, Chef Susan Spicer, Event Designer Bronson van Wyck, and local musical artist Trombone Shorty were also on hand. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)
METAIRIE, LA - AUGUST 1: Tom Benson, owner of the New Orleans Pelicans addresses the media during a press conference to unveil the team's new home and road uniforms on August 1, 2013 at the New Orleans Pelicans practice facility in Metairie, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2013 NBAE (Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 12: New Orleans Pelicans owners Mr. and Mrs. Tom Benson tip-off the NBA All-Star Weekend with a press event on February 12, 2014 at the Contemporary Arts Center in New Orleans. The Bensons along with Mark Romig, President & CEO of the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, New Orleans Host Committee Chairman Avery Johnson, Chef Susan Spicer, Event Designer Bronson van Wyck, and local musical artist Trombone Shorty were also on hand. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)
METAIRIE, LA - AUGUST 1: Tom Benson, owner of the New Orleans Pelicans shakes hands with Anthony Davis #23 during a press conference to unveil the team's new home and road uniforms on August 1, 2013 at the New Orleans Pelicans practice facility in Metairie, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2013 NBAE (Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 21: Owner Tom Benson and his wife Gayle poses for a photo with Anthony Davis of the New Orleans Pelicans during a reception for the 2013 NBA Draft Lottery on May 21, 2013 at the Millennium Hotel in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2013 NBAE (Photo by Steven Freeman/NBAE via Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - MARCH 6: Tom Benson, owner of the New Orleans Hornets, center right, and actor Robert De Niro, center left, attend a game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Hornets on March 6, 2013 at the New Orleans Arena in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2013 NBAE (Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 24: Tom Benson, owner of the New Orleans Pelicans, speaks with the media at a press conference to announce the name change from the New Orleans Hornets to the New Orleans Pelicans at the New Orleans Arena on January 24, 2013 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
CANTON, OH - AUGUST 05: New Orleans Saints Owner Tom Benson and his wife follow the action when the New Orleans Saints play the Arizona Cardinals in the Hall of Fame Game at Fawcett Stadium on August 5, 2012 in Canton, Ohio. (Photo by Al Pereira/Getty Images)
CANTON, OHIO - AUGUST 5, 2012: Owner Tom Benson of the New Orleans Saits walks on the sideline before a game with the Arizona Cardinals at Fawcett Stadium in Canton, Ohio. The Saints won 17-10. (Photo by David Dermer/Diamond Images/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - JUNE 29: New Orleans Hornets owner Tom Benson and wife Gayle introduce the team's first round draft picks Anthony Davis (L) of Kentucky and Austin Rivers (R) of Duke at a press conference on June 29, 2012 at the New Orleans Arena in New Orleans, Louisiana. From left, Rita Benson LeBlanc, Anthony Davis, team owner Tom Benson and his wife Gayle, Austin Rivers and Ryan LeBlanc. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2012 NBAE (Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - JUNE 29: Team owner Tom Benson introduces Anthony Davis and Austin Rivers to the media at the New Orleans Arena on June 29, 2012 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Davis was the first overall pick and Rivers the 10th overall pick in the 2012 NBA draft. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 30: Owner Tom Benson, wife Gayle and daughter Rita of the New Orleans Hornets reacts during the 2012 NBA Draft Lottery on May 30, 2012 at ABC News 'Good Morning America' Times Square Studios in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2012 NBAE (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - DECEMBER 18: (L-R) New Orleans Saints owners Tom Benson and Rita Benson LeBlanc greet fans during the pregame against the Minnesota Vikings at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome on December 18, 2011 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Adam Bettcher /Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS - SEPTEMBER 09: Team Owner of the New Orleans Saints Tom Benson, his wife Gayle and his daughter Rita Benson Leblanc wave to the fans as they ride a float, displaying the VInce Lombardi trophy, out onto the field prior to the Saints playing against the Minnesota Vikings at Louisiana Superdome on September 9, 2010 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - AUGUST 12: New Orleans Saints Owner Tom Benson looks on during warm ups with wife Grace Benson before his team plays the San Francisco 49ers during their preseason game at Louisiana Superdome on August 12, 2011 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama stands alongside quarterback Drew Brees (L), New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson (R) and his family, during an event honoring the 2010 Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints in the East Room at the White House in Washington, DC, August 9, 2010. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS - FEBRUARY 09: New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson and his wife Gayle Benson wave during the New Orleans Saints Super Bowl XLIV victory parade on St. Charles Avenue February 9, 2010 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Cheryl Gerber/Getty Images)
MIAMI GARDENS, FL - FEBRUARY 07: New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson celebrates after his team defeated the Indianapolis Colts during Super Bowl XLIV on February 7, 2010 at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
MIAMI GARDENS, FL - FEBRUARY 07: New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson celebrates after his team defeated the Indianapolis Colts during Super Bowl XLIV on February 7, 2010 at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS - JANUARY 24: Team owner Tom Benson of the New Orleans Saints, his wife Gayle (R) and daughter Rita Benson LeBlanc (L) celebrate after the Saints won 31-28 in overtime against the Minnesota Vikings during the NFC Championship Game at the Louisiana Superdome on January 24, 2010 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS - JANUARY 24: Team owner Tom Benson (C) of the New Orleans Saints, his wife Gayle (2nd R) and daughter Rita Benson LeBlanc (R) celebrate with the George S. Halas Trophy after the Saints won 31-28 in overtime against the Minnesota Vikings during the NFC Championship Game at the Louisiana Superdome on January 24, 2010 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
New Orleans - JANUARY 24: Owner Tom Benson of the New Orleans Saints celebrates his team's win against the Minnesota Vikings during the NFC Championship Game at the Louisana Superdome on January 24, 2010 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Saints defeated the Vikings 31-28 in overtime. (Photo by Larry French/Getty Images)
MIAMI GARDENS, FL - FEBRUARY 07: Tom Benson Owner of the New Orleans Saints celebrates on the podium after defeating the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV on February 7, 2010 at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Rob Tringali/Sportschrome/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS - OCTOBER 18: Team Owner Tom Benson left, celebrates with head coach Sean Payton of the New Orleans Saints after defeating the New York Giants at the Louisiana Superdome on October 18, 2009 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Saints defeated the Giants 48-27. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
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