MINNEAPOLIS — Former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura is setting his legal sights on the widow of a former Navy SEAL he had sued for defamation.
Lawyers for Ventura have asked a federal court to continue his lawsuit against Chris Kyle — who was killed in February by a young veteran he was mentoring — by substituting Kyle’s wife, Taya, as the defendant. Ventura last year sued Kyle, a decorated former SEAL and author of “American Sniper,” claiming that the book’s description of a California bar fight defamed him.
“Although Kyle is deceased, his ‘American Sniper’ book continues to sell and it is soon to be made into a movie,” said Ventura’s motion, filed last week by Minneapolis attorney David Bradley Olsen.
Ventura’s lawyers said his claims survive Kyle’s death, and “it would be unjust to permit the estate to continue to profit from Kyle’s wrongful conduct and to leave Governor Ventura without redress for ongoing damage to his reputation.”
On Wednesday, Taya Kyle’s attorney filed a response to the motion, writing that Ventura’s move “comes as a disappointment, but no surprise.”
“Continuing this action will serve no useful purpose,” wrote Kyle’s attorney, John Borger of Minneapolis, “and likely will promote public perception of Jesse Ventura as someone who has little or no regard for the feelings and welfare of surviving family members of deceased war heroes.”
A hearing is slated for June 17 in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis.
In a section of his book called “Punching Out Scruff Face,” Kyle describes a confrontation with a “celebrity” at a 2006 wake for a Navy SEAL. He claimed “Scruff Face” made disparaging remarks about the war, the United States and President George W. Bush, provoking Kyle to punch him in the face.
Although he didn’t name “Scruff Face,” Kyle later acknowledged in media interviews that he was describing Ventura.
After his book was published in January 2012, Kyle became a celebrity in his own right. “American Sniper” became a best seller, landing him interviews on talk shows such as “The O’Reilly Factor” and “Late Night With Conan O’Brien.”
Ventura sued, claiming that the confrontation never occurred and that he never said any of the remarks attributed to him. The remarks and ongoing publicity were injuring his reputation, said the suit, which also accused Kyle of “unjust enrichment” — making money at Ventura’s expense.
The suit was moving through court when Kyle was killed. He had brought a Marine reservist whom he was mentoring to a Texas firing range, where the young man shot and killed him.
Now the book could reach an even bigger audience. Blockbuster filmmaker Steven Spielberg announced this month that he would direct the movie version of “American Sniper.”
But the suit didn’t end. Soon after Taya Kyle filed legal documents this month confirming that she is executor of her husband’s estate, Ventura’s attorneys filed the motion to continue the suit under her name.
Kyle’s attorneys responded this week that there is no proof that Ventura has suffered “substantial and real damages” and that Ventura would better improve his public image “by taking the high road and declining to continue this lawsuit.”