Louisiana Supreme Court Justice Jeff Hughes scored a significant victory 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.
In a judgement signed on Nov. 23, 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.
While an appeal from The Advocate is anticipated, the newspaper has not commented on the court’s ruling.
Hughes was the only Livingston Parish candidate in the race in 2012, and ran as a fiscal and social conservative Republican with a pro-life, pro-gun rights, and pro-traditional marriage philosophy. He is a Walker resident.
Hughes, 68, currently serves as Justice for the 5th Judicial Circuit of the Supreme Court and is in his 8th year at the position. Hughes ran for the bench position left vacated by Democrat Catherine Kimball in 2012, wherein he won the remainder of her term after she retired. He then won an election, without opposition, in 2018 for a full, 10-year term.
Hughes served on the First Circuit Court of Appeal for eighth years. He served as a district court judge for 14 years and as a private attorney for 12 years.
He attended LSU Law School where he was selected for the Law Review, and LSU, where he graduated with a degree in History, with honors. He was Salutatorian of his Denham Springs High School class of 1970 and a National Merit Scholar Finalist. He played four sports and remains an avid hunter and fisherman.
“Crime is obviously a concern for area voters,” Hughes said in 2012. “I have been a judge for 22 years. I have more years as a judge than any other candidate, and more experience as a judge in criminal court than all other candidates combined.”
“Fortunately, I have never released anybody from jail who turned around and killed someone. Most people who find themselves in criminal court are just not that smart, or were in the wrong place at the wrong time. But it is important to be able to discern true evil and lock it away for as long as possible. Or to impose the death penalty if needed.”
Hughes authored the first appellate decision that affirmed the conviction of Derrick Todd Lee.
Hughes said his experience and better qualifications make him the logical choice for the Supreme Court.
“In 2008, I was the only Republican to challenge the Democrat incumbent, who is now retiring,” Hughes said, again in 2012. “I am on record as pro-life, pro-gun, and pro traditional marriage. I need your help to be your voice for these traditional values at the Louisiana Supreme Court.”
The 5th District includes the parishes of East and West Baton Rouge, East and West Feliciana, Livingston, Ascension, Iberville, and Pointe Coupee.