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Tom Benson, estranged heirs make cases in appeal on competency

NEW ORLEANS -- Lawyers for New Orleans Saints and Pelicans owner Tom Benson and his estranged heirs made arguments Thursday in an appeals hearing regarding his mental competency case.

The proceedings were closed to the public and the media. Attorneys told media members afterward that a ruling by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals is expected within a month.

Benson, 88, was declared mentally competent by a New Orleans civil court judge in June 2015 after an eight-day trial that was also closed to the media and the public. Benson's daughter and grandchildren filed suit seeking an interdiction after Benson announced plans to cut them out of his vast business empire and name his wife, Gayle, as his successor in the event of his death.

The attorney for Benson's daughter, Renee Benson, and grandchildren Rita and Ryan LeBlanc argued among other things in their appeal that Benson should have been required to testify and face questioning in open court. Instead, Benson met with Civil District Court Judge Kern Reese at Benson's office and answered questions with attorneys from both sides present.

Reese strongly vouched for Benson's mental acumen in his written decision, pointing to his conversation with Benson as well as testimony from two of three psychiatric experts and a former private nurse for Benson as leading factors.

Benson was present at Thursday's appeals hearing after arriving through a back door, his attorney told the media afterward. Benson's daughter and grandchildren also attended the hearing.

Benson and his estranged heirs are also battling over multiple family trusts in both Louisiana and Texas.

Earlier this week, Benson, Gayle Benson and the Saints were sued by Benson's longtime former personal assistant, Rodney Henry, who is seeking years of unpaid overtime and claiming that Gayle Benson racially discriminated against him and harassed him before having him fired. In a statement, the Saints denied Henry's claims.