Tom Benson, the owner of the NFL’s New Orleans Saints and the NBA’s New Orleans Pelicans, must submit to mental examinations to determine whether he is competent to retain control over his business affairs, a judge ruled Tuesday. The decision was made as part of a lawsuit filed by the 87-year-old’s daughter and grandchildren last month after he announced that his third wife Gayle Benson would assume sole control of the teams in the event of his death.
Benson will undergo three mental health evaluations, New Orleans city judge Kern Reese said, according the New Orleans Times-Picayune. Benson will appoint one doctor to conduct an evaluation, while his daughter, Renee Benson and her children, Ryan LeBlanc and Rita Benson-LeBlanc, will appoint a second doctor. The two doctors will then select a third doctor, all of whom will carry out separate exams to ascertain Benson’s mental health.
“We just really want an independent evaluation; that’s what my clients want because they’re very concerned about the health of their father and grandfather,” attorney Randy Smith said.
Benson’s legal team has yet to decide if it will appeal the judge’s decision, his attorney Phillip Wittmann said, according to ESPN. His representatives have maintained that Benson made a lucid decision to remove his daughter and grandchildren from his succession plan. Wittmann said he is not worried about a Benson mental exam’s potential results.
“Because I don’t think the assessment’s going to show anything I haven’t already said. Mr. Benson’s fully capable of managing his own affairs,” Wittmann said, according to ESPN.
Renee Benson and her children cited alleged instances of Benson’s “bizarre and uncharacteristic behavior” in their suit, which seeks to declare Benson mentally unfit to name Gayle Benson has his successor. The suit claims that Gayle Benson has increasingly controlled her husband’s affairs and that his “health and mental capacity have significantly declined” in recent months.
Specifically, the suit alleges Benson failed to correctly name the current president of the United States and could not recognize Renee Benson. A Dec. 27 email in which the Saints owner declared his intention to sever ties with his family was also cited as uncharacteristic.
“I am extremely disappointed by the lawsuit filed against me today by my daughter and two grandchildren,” Benson wrote in a statement published to NewOrleansSaints.com last month. “Their allegations regarding my mental health are completely meritless and their allegations against my wife equally unfounded. I will vigorously defend my decisions and the businesses I have built. The false accusations in this suit further support the actions I have taken in changing the succession and transfer of ownership.”
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell described the Benson family’s legal battle as “unfortunate” on Jan. 30 and expressed confidence that the Saints owner was lucid and fully in control of his franchise.
“I spoke to Tom Benson just the other day. He was going into the office as usual. He was in complete control, energetic, excited about getting to the office, asking about league issues. As you know, he’s been one of our more active owners in the league on various committes,” Goodell said, according to ESPN.