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Judge Sues Newspaper in Virginia

(CN) - The presiding judge of Richmond, Va., City Court claims The Voice newspaper defamed him in an article covering a trial in which a jury in his court found against the newspaper in a defamation case.

Judge Melvin Hughes says The Voice published the article a week after a jury found against the newspaper in a defamation case filed by a schoolteacher.

Hughes sued the newspaper and its president, Jack Green, in Chesterfield County Court, Virginia. The judge says Green was present in the courtroom during the first trial, in March 2010, and wrote two articles about it.

Citing Green's articles, Hughes says The Voice reported that "despite the jury verdict, there was 'a bevy of evidence proving that the information' contained in the first Voice article 'was accurate,' though noting that '[u]nfortunately, the judge and jury in the case did not feel the same way." (Brackets in complaint.)

The judge's complaint adds: "After further stating that '[w]e never cover opinion as news, and we believe that such a clear separation is what has allowed us to become Virginia's largest Black-oriented newspaper,' Green stated the following: 'We were naïve in thinking that this fact alone would lead to a victory in civil case we had deemed frivolous. We did not take into account the politics played in a courtroom - between judges and counsel - and the maneuverings of counsel who treat facts casually."

Hughes says the allegations in the second article damaged his "excellent reputation for fairness and honesty."

"At the time Green and the Voice published the second Voice article, they either knew that the statements were false or, if Green and/or the Voice claim that they believed them to be true, then Green and/or the Voice acted with reckless disregard of whether the statements were false or not," the complaint states.

It adds: "The statements were libelous per se because they falsely imputed to Judge Hughes unfitness to perform, or lack of integrity in the performance of the duties of his profession as a judge, they necessarily prejudiced Judge Hughes in his profession and they imputed to him the commission of crimes of moral turpitude, as well as violations of the Canons of Judicial Conduct for the State of Virginia."

The original case stemmed from a Voice article accusing a Virginia teacher of physically, mentally and verbally abusing special needs students. The teacher sued The Voice for defamation and a jury in Hughes' court found in favor of the teacher, awarding him compensatory and punitive damages.

Hughes seeks $1 million in actual damages against The Voice and Green and $350,000 in punitive damages from each for damage to his reputation. He is represented by Thomas Albro with Tremblay & Smith, of Charlottesville.

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