More than two years after former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura won his defamation suit against the estate of bestselling author Chris Kyle — and eight months after the verdict was overturned — a fight has erupted over legal bills the estate incurred.
Attorneys for Taya Kyle, the widow of Chris Kyle, say Ventura lost his suit and should reimburse the estate $37,317.62, including nearly $7,900 in trial transcript fees and $27,800 for a bond it was required to post, plus a few other expenses.
But Ventura's lawyer says the verdict was only partly reversed, so most of the bill is not his responsibility. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals gave Ventura the option to return to federal court in St. Paul to have the defamation suit retried. Ventura previously told the Star Tribune he will seek a new trial.
The original trial judge, Richard Kyle, has sided with Ventura in the latest dispute, so it's up to the Eighth Circuit to resolve it.
The clash is the latest dust-up between the two sides in a long-running battle that erupted in 2012 after Chris Kyle, a retired Navy SEAL, published his autobiography “American Sniper” about his Iraq war experiences.
Kyle wrote that in 2006 he punched a man he called “Scruff Face” in a California bar for making derogatory remarks about SEALs, President George W. Bush and the Iraq war.
In subsequent national media interviews Kyle said “Scruff Face” was Ventura, who served with the SEALs during the Vietnam War. The book became a bestseller and was subsequently turned into a movie, which did not mention the Ventura incident.
In the meantime, Ventura sued Kyle over the book, saying the bar fight account was fabricated. Kyle was killed in an unrelated incident in 2013. Ventura continued his suit against the Kyle estate and in 2014, won a $1.8 million verdict in a jury trial in U.S. District Court in St. Paul.
But the Eighth Circuit overturned it, saying the $1.3 million the jury awarded for “unjust enrichment” was an improper application of Minnesota law. It also vacated the $500,000 jury award to Ventura for defamation, saying Ventura's attorney was allowed to make an improper argument at trial. But the panel said the case could be retried.
The Kyle estate then sought reimbursement for costs related to its appeal.
“There is no debate which party won the appeal: Taya Kyle did,” the estate's attorney, Charles Webber, wrote in a brief. “This court left no part of Ventura's judgment standing.” Hence, the estate is owed the $37,317.62, he argued.
David B. Olsen, Ventura's attorney, countered in his brief that the appeals court reversed the jury verdict in part, but sent a second part back to the district court should Ventura opt to have it retried. Judge Kyle correctly concluded that it was not an “outright reversal,” Olsen wrote. The judge properly awarded the estate $922.30 in costs, but under the rules, could not bill Ventura's side for more than that, Olsen wrote.
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