Attorneys in Benson power struggle make first appearance in court

Published: Jan. 23, 2015 at 5:01 PM CST|Updated: Jan. 23, 2015 at 6:33 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Attorneys for both sides of the Benson family power struggle walked into Orleans Parish Civil District Court Friday morning after Judge Kern Reese called a meeting in his chambers.

The attorney for Tom Benson, Phil Wittmann, was mum as he walked into court for the 9 a.m. status conference. Randy Smith, who represents Renee Benson, Rita and Ryan Leblanc, said it is not a happy day for his clients, pointing to events alleged in their lawsuit.

The suit filed Thursday said Tom Benson's wife, Gayle, manipulated her husband and took advantage of his state of health. It alleges the Saints owner's mental state is failing.

The court filing asked the judge to make Tom Benson's daughter, Renee Benson, the executive of his sports and business empire. The lawsuit comes after Tom Benson decided to transfer future ownership of the Saints and Pelicans to his wife. He also owns FOX 8.

After the meeting, the attorneys said little about exactly what was discussed behind closed doors with the judge, but both defended their clients.

"We think there is no basis for this lawsuit and we intend to oppose it vigorously," Wittmann said. He added that Tom Benson's mental state is "excellent as far as I'm concerned."

Smith wanted to quash rumors that under Rita Leblanc's leadership, the Saints are not going anywhere.

"I saw some rumors, some blogs or websites about whether the Saints would move out of New Orleans," Smith said. "If there is one thing that is 100 percent certain it is that Rita Leblanc has always been a huge supporter of the New Orleans Saints, totally involved with that team for 20 years and absolutely committed to keeping the Saints and Pelicans in New Orleans."

Smith went on to say that his clients only want what's best for their father and grandfather.

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