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La Supreme Court justice sues head of watchdog group for defamation

1 year 9 months 5 days ago Thursday, September 24 2020 Sep 24, 2020 September 24, 2020 5:59 AM September 24, 2020 in News
Source: The Advocate
Louisiana Supreme Court Justice Jefferson Hughes III Photo: The Advocate

A Louisiana Supreme Court Justice who was publicly criticized in a 2019 open letter to The Advocate is suing the woman who penned the letter, saying it resulted in his suffering “embarrassment and damage to his reputation,” The Advocate reports.

Justice Jefferson Hughes III's lawsuit targets Lana Venable, the executive director of Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch, an organization that actively supports laws designed to reduce litigation.

Venable's Sept. 4, 2019 letter to The Advocate criticized Hughes, using him as an example of why she believes the public ought to have more access to information about judges who have been investigated for wrongdoing.

Venable's letter cited Louisiana's lack of judicial transparency as a reason for the state's less than favorable reputation, saying it's known as to have, "one of the worst legal climates in the country."

Hughes struck back with a lawsuit filed in Baker City Court, which is in his Supreme Court district, The Advocate reports.

Documents submitted by the Supreme Court Justice describe Venable as defaming him with just one sentence in her letter to the editor.

The pivotal sentence, that Hughes believes is damaging to his reputation, states that “investigations began while he (Hughes) was still serving as a state judge in Livingston Parish through his election to the Supreme Court — twice.”

In court filings, Hughes argues this statement is incorrect and refers to The Advocate’s reporting on those investigations as he says they came to a conclusion “with no action taken” in 2004.

The lawsuit against Venable isn't the first time Hughes has taken such legal action.

In July, he filed a similar suit against The Advocate over the wording of an editorial that referenced his alleged past romance with an attorney who was at one time enrolled in a child custody case he presided over.

The newspaper reported that Hughes’ attorney received a letter from the U.S. Attorney’s office dated May 25, 2004, advising him that they had closed their file on his case. Hughes was elected to the First Circuit Court of Appeal that fall, and the apology letters that he wrote to litigants were dated Dec. 1, 2004, The Advocate reports. The newspaper goes on to say that in 2005 and 2006, the Louisiana Legislature authorized reimbursements for his legal fees related to the probe, helping him recoup nearly $100,000. Hughes was elected to the Supreme Court in 2012.

In court filings, Hughes asserts that Venable made her statement either knowing it was untrue or not knowing and showing reckless disregard for the facts, and he requests “reasonable damages” by way of judicial interest and court costs.

The Advocate says both Venable and her attorney, David Bienvenu Jr., declined to comment about the lawsuit Wednesday.

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