Benson v. Benson Day 1: Trial over billionaire's fortune begins

Benson v. Benson Day 1: Trial over billionaire's fortune begins

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - The battle over control of Tom Benson's fortune played out behind closed doors in Orleans Parish Civil Court on Monday. An appeals court upheld Judge Kern Reese's decision to close the hearing and keep out all members of the media.

"I'm still walking, so I feel good," Benson, 87, said as he left the courtroom with a cane and an escort. "I can't talk about nothing. I just feel good."

He looked unfazed by the battle over his empire, which includes the New Orleans Saints and Pelicans franchises. When asked if he was still competent to run the teams, he responded strongly, "I've been running them for 50 years."

On Monday afternoon, the court heard testimony from Benson's nurse and his longtime business partner Tom Roddy. Both refused to comment publicly.

"We're trying to do what's best for Tom Benson, his family, the city, the state and all the fans of the Saints and Pelicans. We're just concerned he gets the protection that he needs and deserves and that we all do," said Benson family's attorney, Randy Smith.

Benson and his estranged family are fighting over his fortune after he announced that his wife, Gayle, would take over when he dies. The decision was followed by the family saying Benson was incapable of taking care of himself and his two franchises.

Three doctors have examined Benson to determine if he's sufficiently mentally stable to continue controlling his own fortune. The controversial case is still very public, even though it is a closed hearing.

"The judged weighed the difference between what Mr. Benson's rights were versus the First Amendment, and he thinks that he deserves some privacy here," FOX 8 Legal Analyst Joe Raspanti said. "I know the media is upset with that, but it looks like the appeals court agreed with Judge Reese."

Raspanti said closed hearings are not uncommon, and he believes even though Benson is a public persona it does not mean details of his health and life are, as well.

"He doesn't want his business out on the street. It's not a publicly held corporation. He's not running for office. He didn't choose this. He has to be there. So the judge is trying to offer him some semblance of privacy and balancing it with the public's right and need to know," Raspanti said.

The hearing will continue Tuesday at 9:30 a.m.

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