Tom Benson seeks expedited appeal in fight over Texas trust’s control (TX/LA)

Tom Benson wants to expedite his appeal of a Texas judge’s ruling that has ousted the owner of the New Orleans Saints and Pelicans as steward of a trust that had been set up to benefit his now-estranged daughter.

In paperwork filed in Texas’ 4th Court of Appeals, Benson’s lawyers said the two men appointed to jointly take over the decision-making responsibility for the trust are each charging it $600 an hour, or a total of $9,600 daily.

Benson had been the unpaid steward of the trust until Bexar County Probate Court Judge Tom Rickhoff transferred those duties to former San Antonio Mayor Phil Hardberger and attorney Art Bayern on Feb. 9.

“Typically, accelerated appeals take 60 days for briefing,” the filing said. “By the time (Benson) files his reply, (Hardberger and Bayern) will have charged at least $576,000 to the trust.”

That’s money the trust will never recover, Benson’s attorneys said.

Benson’s lawyers also argued that Rickhoff’s order is legally problematic for a number of reasons, including that the judge did not consider remedies that were less intrusive than appointing new receivers for the trust — a move that the filing describes as “extraordinarily harsh.”

“A trial court should not appoint a (trust) receiver if another remedy exists at law or in equity that is adequate and complete,” Benson’s lawyers wrote in their motion. “(That) stems from the understanding that the power to appoint a receiver is in derogation of a fundamental property right of a legal owner to possession and enjoyment of his or her property.”

Benson’s lawyers made it clear that Monday’s filing did not contain all of the grounds for their appeal of Rickhoff’s decision. That would come later, they said.

The trust in question includes shares in Bensco Inc., which owns several car dealerships, a 97 percent interest in Lone Star Capital Bank, about $5 million in cash and real estate in Louisiana and Texas.

The trust is part of a bitter legal clash between Tom Benson and daughter Renee Benson — who, along with her children, was banned from any future dealings with the Saints, Pelicans and her billionaire father’s other assets in January. Tom Benson, twice widowed, wants his third wife, Gayle, to be his successor.

Part of Renee Benson’s response to that development was to ask a Texas court to freeze the assets in a trust created for her by her mother, Shirley Benson, who died in 1980.

Rickhoff appointed Hardberger and Bayern after listening to a day and a half of testimony about whether Tom Benson was still mentally fit to make decisions about the trust’s assets. Nine days later, on Feb. 18, Rickhoff restyled the order as a temporary injunction, Monday’s filing said.

Monday’s filing said that action occurred “without notice, hearing or explanation,” and it contended the new order “failed to comply with the basic requirements for a temporary injunction.”

Meanwhile, in Orleans Parish Civil District Court, Renee Benson is pushing to have her 87-year-old father declared mentally unfit to make business decisions. That case is before Judge Kern Reese, who has ordered Tom Benson to undergo an evaluation by three doctors, including at least one geriatric psychiatrist.

Reese ordered that the three-doctor team be assembled by Wednesday.


Tom Benson seeks expedited appeal in fight over Texas trust’s control
Ramon Antonio Vargas
February 25, 2015
The New Orleans Advocate