Rita Benson Leblanc wishes Tom a happy 90th in full page ad after bitter legal feud

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Tom Benson's granddaughter hopes taking out a full page ad in a newspaper will convince everyone to pray for her family.

The request for prayers on Benson's birthday follows a years-long battle over control of Benson's empire. The battle put Benson's daughter and grandchildren at odds with the Saints and Pelicans owner and his wife.

It has been two years since Benson and his heirs fought in court.

"It's not fun to have your kids turn against you, it's for the birds," Benson said during the trial.

"If he said that, that's sad. They're for him," Randy Smith, the attorney for the heirs, countered at the time.

The court battle is basically over, but as a sign that Rita Benson Leblanc still loves her grandfather, she took out a full page ad in the Advocate newspaper, wishing her "Paw Paw"  a happy 90th birthday. The ad also includes pictures of Rita and Tom together going back to when she was a little girl. The ad asks that  readers "Help us pray for the reunification of our family."

"Maybe I'm naive, but I thought it was a nice thing for her to do to try and put everything behind them," said FOX 8 legal analyst Joe Raspanti.

The ad portrays a granddaughter who appears to be reaching out, but healing this long-simmering rift may be tough.

"I've never done a case this big, but there's been a lot of bad feelings in both directions, so I don't know if they will be able to reconcile," said Raspanti.

Tom Benson attorney Phil Wittman declined comment on the ad. He's the man who helped convince an Orleans court that Benson was competent to handle his own affairs. There was also a federal court fight over assets in Texas.

As for the litigation, Wittman told FOX 8, "It is settled and confirmed by court order, and the parties are now implementing the settlement according to that order," Indicating that some financial arrangements are still being worked out.

"She's not going to gain anything unless Tom Benson wants her to gain something," said Raspanti.

Rita Benson Leblanc was at one time being groomed to take over ownership of the Saints.  But three years ago, Tom Benson wrote her and the heirs a letter indicating that growing tension between them and his third wife, Gayle, had become unmanageable. Benson then had Rita and the other heirs removed from team headquarters, setting the stage for the legal battle over control, which Tom Benson ultimately won.

When asked if Mr. Benson had a response to the ad, spokesman Greg Bensel released the following statement on his behalf:

"Mr. Benson is thankful to have received numerous well-wishes from fans on his birthday. He could not be happier and healthier at the young age of 90.  With the football season soon upon us and the positive moves with the Pelicans, he and Mrs. Benson return from a quick vacation back to the office this week to get ready for the seasons ahead."

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