NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Saints and Pelicans owner Tom Benson must undergo a mental health exam, according to a ruling handed down Tuesday morning by Civil Court Judge Kern Reese.
Neither the Bensons nor the LeBlancs were in court for the hearing.
"We're delighted with the judge's rulings," said veteran attorney Randy Smith, who is representing Renee, Rita and Ryan in their suit against Benson. They allege in court documents that Benson is making uncharacteristic and irrational decisions.
Recently, Benson fired all three and barred them from his businesses.
"We allege the infirmity is it doesn't appear he's capable of consistently reasoned decisions for the care of his person and property," Smith said.
Benson's lead attorney, Phil Wittmann, had argued in court that greed is at the root of the lawsuit and that Benson knew what he was doing when he shut his daughter and her children out of his life.
"We're disappointed with the judge failing to grant our exception of no cause of action, but that's just one step along the way," Wittmann said.
Wittmann maintains there is no basis for the examination the judge has ordered.
"He's made a reasoned decision to exclude his daughter and his grandchildren from his life," Wittmann said. "He conveyed it to them clearly and consistently and he's told that everyone who's talked to him since December the 27th. Don't think there's any question what Mr. Benson wants to do and he's capable of doing it. You've seen him at basketball games, you've seen him in public, he's able to get around and gets along pretty well, very frankly, for a man 87 years old, and he intends to stick with his decision."
"We're not doctors," Smith said to reporters after the judge ruled. "Neither are my clients. But they see a man for his whole life loved them, was with them, they were a family. Renee, Ryan, Rita - they all worked in the family business for all their lives, and all of a sudden they're torn apart from it."
Judge Reese did not just settle on the geriatric psychiatrist the plaintiffs had pushed for, Dr. Ted Bloch. He ruled that there will be three doctors to examine Benson - one that the plaintiffs want, another that Benson's legal team favors, and a third that the two sides agree on.
"I'm confident that Dr. Bloch and two other appropriate physicians can get together and come up with the least intrusive way possible to do this evaluation," Smith said.
FOX 8 Legal Analyst Joe Raspanti said the judge's approach in making his ruling is not novel.
"That's not surprising at all," he said. What he's using is the protocol that they use in medical review panels among things where each side picks an expert and those two pick the third expert. That way, it's not just one doctor making the decision, it's a group of doctors and it's harder to topple over because it's three doctors making a recommendation, giving their opinion to the court."
While the attorney for Benson said the litigation amounts to family members not wanting to honor Benson's current wishes, the attorney for his daughter and grandchildren insists it is about their concern for him.
"We believe that there's something wrong," Smith said. "My clients believe that there's something wrong. I'm just their attorney."
But Benson's legal team insists their client is in full control of his decision-making.
"I don't think that the assessment is going to show anything I haven't already said," Wittmann said.
Raspanti said he does not consider the ruling a big blow for Benson because his attorneys likely prepared him for the eventuality of such an examination.
Benson's legal team is weighing an appeal of Judge Reese's ruling.