In lawsuit, Jesse Ventura and Navy SEAL each claim the other is a liar
By David Hanners | Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn. | Published: December 14, 2012
ST. PAUL, Minn. — The former Navy SEAL sniper said he slugged the former governor for being a mouthy, insensate bore, prompting the former governor to call the former sniper a liar and a fabulist.
Then their lawyers got involved and things got nasty.
In an increasingly testy exchange of legal filings in federal court, lawyers for former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura and best-selling author and former SEAL sniper Chris Kyle have accused each other bad legal behavior, and accused each other's clients and witnesses of changing their stories or making stuff up.
Using language seldom seen in the staid dockets of U.S. District Court, the lawyers have trashed each other's arguments, as well as the honesty of the other's clients.
When lawyers for Ventura filed answers to questions from Kyle's attorneys, the defense took exception and filed a pleading with the title, "Motion to Strike Plaintiff's Belated and Sham Third Supplemental Answers."
The legal definition of "sham" is pretty much like the everyday one. Black's Law Dictionary includes the words "counterfeit" and "faker."
Ventura seeks damages for defamation, misappropriation of his name and "unjust enrichment;" he has asked permission to add punitive damages. In response, Kyle's lead attorney, John Borger, filed a legal memorandum this week saying the "statement of facts" Ventura laid out in his request is "a toxic concoction of argument, mischaracterization, incomplete or distorted citations to discovery (often simply to
his own argumentative answers to interrogatories), and unsupported assertions, mixed with an occasional fact."
"I thought I was restrained," Borger said when asked about the filing. "You have to consider what we're responding to. In full context, this is a reasonably accurate description of what their brief was."
Court Anderson, one of the lawyers representing Ventura, declined comment.
U.S. Chief Magistrate Arthur Boylan will hear arguments on motions Tuesday, Dec. 18, in St. Paul
The protagonists are two men who served, in different eras, in the Navy's special forces and went on to some fame. Ventura, born in Minneapolis, served in the Underwater Demolition Teams (which later became part of the SEALs) and, after stints as a professional wrestler and suburban mayor, was elected governor of Minnesota.
He served one term and didn't run for reelection. Since leaving office, he has lectured at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, written books and hosts a cable TV show on secrets and conspiracies.
Kyle, born in Odessa, Texas, did a short stint as a professional bronco rider before he enlisted in the Navy. He served as a sniper with the SEALs (Sea, Air and Land).
He described his experiences and the human toll of war in his book, "American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History." It became a New York Times bestseller.
In his book, Kyle wrote about a 2006 incident in which he claimed a man he called "Scruff Face" got loud and bad-mouthed America and the SEALs who were mourning a fallen comrade at a California bar.
Kyle wrote that he decked "Scruff Face" with a single punch. Although Ventura was named in early drafts of the manuscript -- the chapter telling of the incident was originally titled "Punching Out Jesse" -- his name was omitted from the published version.
Kyle said in media interviews that Ventura was "Scruff Face."
In a January radio interview, Kyle, 38, and the host talked about the former governor's age (he's 61); the host asked Kyle if Ventura's "walker" fell with him when he punched him.
"Yeah, I think he fell out of his wheelchair," Kyle joked.
Ventura says it never happened. He says he wasn't disrespectful, wasn't loud, didn't get punched, didn't wind up with a black eye. This year, he sued Kyle for defamation, among others things.
Each protagonist has given sworn depositions, as have others at the bar that night. Beyond a few basics, the two sides have agreed on little about the evening.
Part of that stems from Ventura's contention that Kyle's version of events has changed over time, and Kyle's contention that Ventura's has as well.
"Ventura has only his own word that Kyle did not punch him on October 12, 2006, after Ventura made the insensitive remarks -- and Ventura has sworn to so many conflicting statements that none of them deserve any consideration," Borger wrote in a memo filed Tuesday opposing the former governor's request to add punitive damages.
In a supplemental affidavit filed the next day, Anderson noted Kyle's story has changed, too.
"Kyle wrote in his book that he punched Governor Ventura because Ventura swung at him first," the lawyer wrote. "But successive iterations of the book manuscript show that Kyle's story has changed over time from: (i) Kyle punched Ventura in the face after Ventura 'bowed up,' to (ii) Kyle punched Ventura in the face after Ventura 'loaded to throw a punch,' to (iii) Kyle punched Ventura in the face only after Ventura actually threw a punch and missed.
"Contrary to what he wrote in his book, however, Kyle testified that Ventura never attempted to punch him," Anderson wrote.
He pointed out other issues with Kyle's version of events, including Kyle's claim in the book that when he punched the former governor, "Tables flew."
"But he testified that ... the alleged incident occurred on a sidewalk outside the patio wall where there were no tables and that, 'I don't think I knocked him across tables,'" Anderson wrote of Kyle.
To get punitive damages, Ventura must prove Kyle intentionally published something false and defamatory. In a request to add a claim for punitive damages, Ventura's lawyers said that, in essence, Kyle's book accused the former governor of treason.
"In short, the fabricated incident described in the Scruff Face sub-chapter portrays former Navy SEAL and former Governor of the State of Minnesota Jesse Ventura not only as a coward and a weakling, but as a traitor to the United States of America, the oath he took the defend the United States and its Constitution, and to each and every past, present and future member of its military personnel," the lawyers wrote.