Legal bills disputed in ongoing defamation case

Published 10:16 am Tuesday, February 28, 2017

MINNEAPOLIS — Former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura and the estate of “American Sniper” author Chris Kyle are fighting over legal bills that mounted during Ventura’s defamation lawsuit.

Attorneys for Kyle’s widow say Ventura lost his lawsuit and should reimburse the estate more than $37,300, including nearly $7,900 in trial transcript fees and $27,800 for a bond it was required to post, plus a few other expenses. Ventura’s lawyer says the jury verdict was only partly reversed and that most of the bill isn’t his responsibility.

An appeals court gave Ventura the option to return to federal court in St. Paul to retry the defamation suit. Ventura previously told the newspaper he’ll seek a new trial.

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The two sides have clashed in a long-running fight that erupted in 2012, after Chris Kyle — a retired Navy SEAL — published an autobiography.

Kyle wrote that in 2006 he punched a man he referred to as “Scruff Face” in a California bar for making derogatory remarks about SEALs, then-President George W. Bush and the Iraq war. In subsequent interviews with national media, Kyle said “Scruff Face” was Ventura, who served with the SEALs during the Vietnam War.

“American Sniper” became a bestseller and was subsequently turned into a movie, which didn’t mention the Ventura incident.

Ventura sued Kyle over the book, saying the bar fight account was fabricated. Kyle was killed in an unrelated incident in 2013, but Ventura continued his suit against the Kyle estate. In 2014, Ventura won a $1.8 million verdict in a jury trial in U.S. District Court in St. Paul.

The Eighth Circuit overturned the ruling, saying the $1.3 million the jury awarded for “unjust enrichment” was an improper application of state law. It also vacated the $500,000 jury award to Ventura for defamation, saying the former governor’s attorney was allowed to make an improper argument at trial.