Local Supreme Court Justice Jeff Hughes scores win at district court
Although an appeal is now expected, Louisiana Supreme Court Justice Jeff Hughes recently scored a significant victory in his defamation suit agains The Advocate, the state’s largest daily newspaper.
Hughes is suing The Advocate on charges that the newspaper defamed him when in 2019 the newspaper published an article claiming the judge in 1999 had ruled on a custody case while dating the attorney for one of the litigants. Hughes claims the publication was false and that The Advocate knew it was false, due to its own investigation and court documents in its possession, thus exhibiting actual malice toward Hughes.
The Advocate responded with a Special Motion to Strike under Louisiana’s “Anti-SLAPP” (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) statute which is commonly used by media defendants, and arguing Hughes was a public figure and the subject matter was of public interest. Hughes conceded those points but offered evidence that the publication was knowingly false, and therefore, defamatory.
In a judgment signed last month, the court determined that Hughes had established a probability of success on his claim, and additionally awarded him attorneys fees as the prevailing party. Under Louisiana’s “Anti-SLAPP” statute, the district court’s determination is admissible before a jury, which will consider damages at a full trial.