WDSU Seeks Media Access to Pro Team Owner’s Court Case

By Kevin Eck 

New Orleans NBC affiliate WDSU, along with other media outlets, is looking to get the hearings in the fight between New Orleans Saints and Pelicans owner Tom Benson and his kids re-opened to the public and media.

WDSU teamed up with the San Antonio Express-News, Gannett River States Publishing Corporation and ESPN after a judge recently closed the hearings.

Benson’s daughter and two of his grandkids want the owner of the New Orleans Saints (NFL) and Pelicans (NBA) declared unfit to manage his affairs.

“The Benson case will help determine, among other things, the future paths of the region’s two dominant sports franchises, the New Orleans Saints and the New Orleans Pelicans,” said WDSU News Director Jonathan Shelley. “Mr. Benson has established business relationships with the State that involve large sums of public funds.

“Transparency is a tenet of our judicial system. With so much at stake for the community, we believe it essential that these proceedings be conducted in an open manner.”

Judge Reese sealed all hearings and trial proceedings after Benson’s legal team filed a motion on behalf of the 87-year-old businessman. Benson’s daughter and two of his grandchildren are seeking a ruling that would declare Benson unfit to manage his affairs. The legal battle follows Benson’s decision to leave the majority of his holdings to his third wife, Gayle Benson, in lieu of other family members.

Benson’s attorney has expressed concern that an open court would result in the disclosure of sensitive medical and financial data. Reese’s ruling effectively shuts off public access for the entirety of the trial.

The media outlets contend that the blanket closing of the trial violates both the United States and Louisiana constitutions, noting that Benson must make “a specific showing that (his) privacy interests outweigh the public’s right of access” to the courts, and that the Court “must ensure that its order is narrowly tailored to cause the least interference possible with the right of public access.”

The following filings were made on behalf of the media outlets: Motion to Intervene, Memorandum in Support, Rule to Show Cause; and a Motion to Open Trial and Unseal Court Record, Memorandum in Support, and Rule to Show Cause.

A separate legal battle is taking place in federal court in San Antonio, Texas. That case focuses on control of a trust fund that once belonged to Benson’s daughter, Renee Benson.

The San Antonio Express-News is owned by Hearst Newspapers, a sister company of Hearst Television, which owns WDSU-TV. The Hearst Corporation owns 20 percent of ESPN.