The legal proceedings by which three of late Saints and Pelicans owner Tom Benson’s closest family members were removed from his businesses and will were ugly, and marked by profane outbursts from an enfeebled Benson, according to a report from the New Orleans Advocate.
A lawsuit filed in January 2015 claimed that Benson was being manipulated by his third wife, Gayle Marie LaJaunie Bird, to cut his grandson Ryan, his granddaughter Rita, and his daughter Renee out of his life. All three worked in some capacity for Benson, as owner of both the Saints and the New Orleans Pelicans, until December 2014, when they were suddenly all but disowned by Benson.
The swift and ugly separation kicked off a legal battle during which Renee, Rita, and Ryan sought to demonstrate that Benson, who was being treated for Alzheimer’s and dementia, was being isolated and manipulated by his wife, for the purposes of extracting as much personal wealth from his estate as possible. Benson was eventually found mentally competent, and the move against his family was ultimately upheld in court, in a decision and set of appeals that largely took place under seal.
The Advocate reportedly got hold of documents from an appeal to the 4th Circuit Court, and in addition to shedding uncomfortable light on a sad and desperate family dissolution, they show a bitterly angry Benson lashing out verbally during the trial:
At one point, Benson shouted, “Lying bastard!” as one of three psychiatrists who examined him testified. That psychiatrist, Ted Bloch, had been selected for the job by his opponents. He had a grimmer view of Benson’s memory problems than did the other two psychiatrists, one of whom was selected by Benson’s legal team.
Benson also reportedly shouted “Bullshit!” at his granddaughter while she testified, and verbally threatened to kick some unknown person’s ass, earning for himself a light reprimand from the judge:
“Hold on. Hold on, Mr. Benson,” Reese said at one point. “Sir, you may not like it, like I said the other day, but we have to maintain decorum in this court.”
Benson replied, “Excuse me ... I didn’t think you could hear me, judge.”
“Well, I did,” Reese said.
This Advocate report is worth reading in full. Gayle Benson reportedly helped her husband compile and maintain a list of grievances against his daughter and grandchildren, so he could reference it while his memory and mental facilities declined. And Rita, his granddaughter, reportedly cornered Benson while he was heavily medicated and recorded their conversation in order to prove his mental incompetence. Benson died in March of this year, at the age of 90, and Gayle Benson is now listed as owner of both the Saints and Pelicans.