Louisiana Supreme Court Justice Jeff Hughes scored a significant victory this month in his defamation suit against The Advocate, the state’s largest daily newspaper, when a district court determined he had established a “probability of success” on his claim.
Hughes is suing The Advocate on charges that the newspaper defamed him when it published in 2019 that Hughes had ruled on a 1999 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 him.
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, 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.
On Nov. 23, the judge signed a court order that determined 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.
While an appeal from The Advocate is anticipated, the newspaper has not commented since the court’s Nov. 5 ruling or the judge’s Nov. 23 signing of the court order.