Nearly a year after Brett Favre filed three defamation cases, the Hall of Famer netted a rare legal win.
Hinds County Circuit Court Judge E. Faye Peterson denied Mississippi State Auditor Shad White’s motion to dismiss on Thursday, according to court records obtained by Front Office Sports. Favre sued White, Shannon Sharpe, and Pat McAfee in February 2023 over statements each had made related to Favre’s ties to the Mississippi welfare scandal.
McAfee settled with no money changing hands in May. Sharpe’s case was dismissed by a judge with prejudice in November, although Favre is appealing that decision. Those two cases started in a Mississippi court before they were compelled to federal court.
“This ruling is a normal part of the litigation process, and we now look forward to discovery and taking Mr. Favre’s deposition,” Mississippi State Auditor spokesperson Fletcher Freeman said in a statement to FOS.
White argued that statements made to CNN, ESPN, and the Christian news outlet World—that Favre highlighted in the lawsuit—were covered by “absolute privilege” since they were made during the course of his position as state auditor. In the original complaint, Favre’s lawyers wrote that White “made egregiously false and defamatory statements accusing Favre of ‘steal[ing] taxpayer funds’ and knowingly misusing funds ‘designed to serve poor folks.’”
“Because the Mississippi Supreme Court’s precedents hold that absolute privilege is limited to statements made in legislative, judicial, and other similar proceedings, this Court is compelled to hold that Defendant’s position as State Auditor does not grant him an absolute privilege to make defamatory statements,” Peterson wrote in her decision.
Peterson also ruled against White’s motion for summary judgment in the same order. White argued in a March filing, which included his motion to dismiss, that Favre “cannot produce competent evidence sufficient to prove the falsity of the Auditor’s alleged statements” or prove he acted in actual malice, the legal standard under defamation law for public figures like Favre.
“This Court declines to prematurely deny [Favre] the opportunity to gather evidence on these matters before entering summary judgment against him,” Peterson wrote.
Favre’s defamation lawsuit, however, still faces an uphill battle before it gets in front of a jury. While high-profile cases have succeeded—like E. Jean Carrol’s $83.3 million award in her defamation case against Donald Trump—such litigation is among the hardest to win.
As first reported by FOS earlier in January, Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch decided to pull her office’s lawyers from defending White in the case. Fitch said the decision was due to White’s upcoming book that delves into the welfare scandal that her office said in a filing makes “multiple statements…calling into question the integrity of the Attorney General and her office.”
Attorneys within White’s auditor’s office now lead his defense in the case.