- Associated Press - Monday, May 16, 2016

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Saints and Pelicans owner Tom Benson won a key legal round Monday in his fight to leave ownership of his NFL and NBA team to his wife, rather than his estranged daughter and grandchildren.

A federal judge in New Orleans ruled that Benson has authority to substitute assets in trusts established for the estranged relatives. That means he can substitute stock in the teams with promissory notes and other assets.

The multifaceted legal battle playing out in courts in Louisiana and Texas isn’t over. Aside from likely appeals, the actual value of the assets being substituted will have to be determined. A trial in the case is set for June 20.

U.S. District Judge Jane Triche Milazzo ruled that the fact that the values have yet to be determined does not change Benson’s power to make substitutions.

Milazzo rejected the arguments of trustees Mary Rowe and Robert Rosenthal, appointed to guard the interests of Benson’s daughter Renee Benson and her children, Rita and Ryan LeBlanc.

“Clearly, the grantor (Benson) has the unilateral power to effect the substitution, provided that he certify that it is of equivalent value,” Milazzo wrote. “The trustee must then verify that the substituted assets are indeed of equivalent value. The trusts do not say, however, that he may delay the substitution while such a verification is made.”

It’s the latest legal setback for the daughter and grandchildren. Earlier this month, Louisiana’s Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of lower court decisions deeming Benson, 88, competent to manage his affairs.

In January 2015, Tom Benson fired his daughter and her two grandchildren from executive positions with the Saints and Pelicans, and announced his decision to make Gayle Benson, whom he married in 2004, the sole heir to the NFL and NBA clubs.

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