Schwegmann's defamation case against Times-Picayune appealed

Alejandro de los Rios Jul. 28, 2010, 5:43am

John F. Schwegmann

A defamation suit against the Times-Picayune, which was dismissed in May, has been appealed to the Louisiana Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.

In the meantime, two motions to compensate the defense for attorneys fees and costs set for hearing have been continued until September in Orleans Parish Civil District Court.

John F. Schwegmann, Mary Schwegmann, John G. Schwegmann, Heidi Schwegmann and Laurie Schwegmann Damare sued the Times-Picayune alleging defamation after the newspaper published a series of columns and articles chronicling the political and business dealings of John F. Schwegmanns.

New Orleans attorney Jeannie Morris filed the original petition for damages in November 2009. It claims that two columns written by Times-Picayune columnist James Gill in August 2007 and October 2008 contained "false and defamatory statements which constitutes libel" against John F. Schwegmann.

The Schwegmann family has run grocery stores in New Orleans since 1869, but filed for bankruptcy in 2000 under the stewardship of CEO John F. Schwegmann, a position he earned when his father, John Gerald Schwegmann, stepped down in 1979.

The Schwegmanns also have positions in public office. John Gerald Schwegmann was state representative in 1961, state senator in 1968 and elected to the Public Service Commission in 1975. John F. Schwegmann succeeded his father on the Public Service Commission in 1980 and his wife, Melinda Schwegmann, was elected lieutenant governor of Louisiana in 1991.

Judge Herbert Cade dismissed the suit in May.

In February, New Orleans attorney Loretta Mince filed a motion to strike the case on behalf of the Times-Picayune. The motion cited a Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling against Schwegmann, in which he was ordered to pay his half sister, Melba Schwegmann Brown, over $5 million for mismanaging her trust fund.

The motion stated that none of Schwegmann's claims "are actionable under well-settled law" and that he "cannot establish that The Times-Picayune acted with actual malice," the constitutional requirement to succeed in a defamation claim regarding a public figure or public issue.

Plaintiffs unsuccessfully argued that Gill's statements that John F. Schwegmann "refused to give his sister" any of her trust money and that "it is impossible to believe that the value of [Melba Schwegmann Brown]'s trust could equal in excess of $5 million" were false.

Following Cade's ruling, Mince filed a motion on June 18 claiming that the Times-Picayune was entitled to $6,561 in attorney's fees and $732.72 in costs. A motion hearing had been set for July 23 but it was continued until Sept. 10.

Morris filed an appeal on Cade's ruling to strike the suit on behalf of the plaintiffs on July 9.

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