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Psychiatric Experts Play Key Role In Tom Benson Competency Trial

Jared Firestone

Written by
— Updated on June 23, 2020

Psychiatric Experts Play Key Role In Tom Benson Competency Trial

Psychiatry Expert WitnessThe interdiction trial of New Orleans Saints and New Orleans Pelicans owner Tom Benson came to a conclusion on June 12th. The 87-year-old Benson is being sued by his daughter, Renee, and her two children. They claim that the changes Benson made to his will in January 2015, which included removing the right to control the Saints, Pelicans, and several other businesses from his children and granting that right to his third and current wife, Gayle Benson, should be annulled. This is due to Benson’s incompetent mental state and undue influence from Gayle Benson.

Benson’s children also wish to have Benson declared incompetent to handle his own affairs. Benson and his legal team argue that Benson is competent. His decisions were made due to feelings that the former heirs were less-equipped than his wife to manage these franchises. The trial lasted nearly two weeks. It included testimony from Benson’s former heirs, executives from both teams who work with Benson, and three expert geriatric psychiatrists.

Louisiana law defines competency as “the ability of an individual to manage his own affairs. Of legal age without mental disability or incapacity.”. To have Benson declared incompetent, the plaintiffs must prove Benson doesn’t understand what’s happening with his property or the consequences of his decisions. The petitioner must prove that the defendant suffers from some type of infirmity which prevents him or her from making reasoned decisions regarding the care of his own person and/or property. The petitioner always has the burden of proving the case against the defendant. This proof must be clear and convincing.

Each party hired their own psychiatrist to perform tests on Benson, and together, as commanded by Civil District Judge Kern Reese, those two psychiatrists hired an independent third psychiatrist to assist in Benson’s mental evaluation. All three physicians testified at trial regarding their respective findings, however, the specific results will remain unknown due to Judge Kern’s decision to block the trial from the public and institute a gag order as to protect Benson’s privacy.

When dealing with a case involving an elderly person and his or her competency, psychiatrists, specifically geriatric psychiatrists, are often called upon to evaluate and determine the mental-state of the person being evaluated. During such evaluations, doctors test for a number of factors that may be affecting the subject’s competency. These tests include those for mental capacity, such as the ability to perform daily routines or answer simple questions. This is similar to those asked in a concussion or sobriety test. Also there are tests for physical causes of incompetency, such as disease or interaction of medications.

The results of these tests are heavily relied upon in interdiction cases such as Mr. Benson’s. In this case, Dr. Ted Bloch III is an expert in dementia and the geriatric psychiatrist chosen by the petitioners. He testified for over 6 hours as he presented his test results. He was then cross-examined by Benson’s attorneys. Benson’s expert, John Thompson, the chairman of the psychiatry department at Tulane School of Medicine, and Dr. Kenneth Sakauye, a University of Tennessee psychiatrist chosen to be the third doctor, testified for similar amounts of time as Dr. Bloch. Their testimonies will likely carry much weight in determining the conclusion Judge Kerns comes to.





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