A Favre Filing and a Lawsuit Answer’s News Value

Thom Weidlich 05.11.23


Legal communicators should understand enough legal procedure to know a litigation’s “mileposts” at which journalists will be most eager to write about the lawsuit. One that usually doesn’t get much attention is the filing of an answer to the complaint. We have an example of one that did get some notice and for obvious reasons.

In May 2022, the Mississippi Department of Human Services sued retired NFL quarterback Brett Favre and almost three dozen others accusing them of misappropriating welfare funds. Last month, Favre lost his bid to get the case against him dismissed. That meant he had to respond to, or answer, the complaint, which he did on May 5.

Typically, answers are dry documents that don’t offer reporters much in the way of juicy tidbits to write about; they regurgitate the facts and allegations in the complaint, which the defendant either admits to or denies. Yet, for certain cases, journos will work overtime to find something to spill ink over.

Media Moment

Communicators should keep the answer filing in mind as a possible “media moment” (as with other lawsuit phases). At least one reporter, Wes Bruer of CNN, thought the Favre document worthy of writing up. This is probably because Favre is famous and his answer seems to be somewhat more substantive than is typical.

Bruer was able to lead his article with Favre’s denial of the allegations. He also mentions that the document states, in the standard legalese of an answer, that “Favre ‘lacks knowledge or information sufficient to form a belief as to the truth of the allegations’ that he conspired to defraud MDHS.”

Answers often include “affirmative defenses,” which can cause PR headaches. Lawyers plead these defenses, even if there’s no evidence to support them, because they can’t add them later and the legal team hopes through the process of discovery to find evidence to support the claims.

Affirmative Defenses

Bruer writes: “The answer to the complaint lays out 21 affirmative defenses, where Favre’s attorneys question the statutory basis against the allegations, otherwise claiming that Favre acted in good faith and that ‘If there was a civil conspiracy in MDHS complaint, MDHS was a co-conspirator.’” Some might chafe at that last statement, though Bruer didn’t make much of it.

Other than that, the article goes through the usual admissions and denials and the ex-pro’s requests for a jury trial and for the case to be moved to a different district.

The filing of the document hasn’t gotten a lot of coverage, but that’s the point. An answer usually doesn’t, but legal communicators should be ready in case one does.

Image credit: Shutterstock

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