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High-Profile Attention for Mediation in Billion Dollar Family Dispute

Tom Benson, the owner of the New Orleans Saints football team and the city’s pro basketball team, the Pelicans, is reported to have a current (2015) net worth of $ 1.63 billion. And as happens at times when family thinks about the future (Benson is 88-years old and not thought to be of soundest mind and body), a feud has developed about the thoughts of inheritance.

At intense odds are Benson’s estranged daughter, Renee Benson (whom is mother to Benson’s two grandchildren, Rita and Ryan LeBlanc) and Mr. Benson as he is reported to want pass along his assets to his third wife, Gayle, instead of his blood relatives.

Let’s set aside for a moment the family desire and obsession over rights, control, money, property, entitlement and what meaning that materialism has to them.

Instead, let’s pay attention and celebrate the thinking and action of Bexar County (Texas) Probate Judge Tom Rickhoff who asked the parties to consider mediation to avoid a jury trial, which is scheduled for Feb. 1.

This is not reckless thought on behalf of Rickhoff or the Benson family. It’s more big picture and helpful to the people, relationship and for the allocation of resources in the dispute. Full-blown litigation is not excluded. It’s just asked to wait patiently for now.

Rickoff’s suggestion of mediation could prove to be the vehicle that creates understanding between the people with real emotions, facilitates empathy, heals hurts and helps the Benson’s and LeBlanc’s move towards finding creative ways of solving their challenges that meets interests.

And it could all transpire, with strong leadership, in a manner that is less violent and more attractive in implementation. Hopefully this process will also allow the family to realize what’s most important – each other.

Cases like these rarely pass through mediation either recommendation or choice so that this story is already different is progress and an evolution of judicial thinking and behavior. The same can be written about the parties and their representation.

The sides have agreed to participate in the process.

If the leadership proves to be skilled and the parties walk the path of mediation, it is most capable of becoming a strong shining example and case study for a practice that is woefully underused in solving disputes respectfully, more thoroughly and without escalating anger.


Michael Toebe

Michael is a conflict management specialist, serving businesses and individuals in strategically, effectively gaining deeper understanding of conflicts and disputes and working through them more protectively and wisely. MORE >

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