Can an expert assess harm to Jesse Ventura's reputation? Judge to decide
Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.
What makes you look worse: a book that paints you in a bad light, or pursuing a lawsuit against the widow of the book's author?
An expert witness for the widow of the late Navy SEAL-turned-best-selling author Chris Kyle claims former Gov. Jesse Ventura's choice to go on with his defamation suit after Kyle's death does more to harm his reputation than Kyle's book does.
Whether a jury will hear that opinion, though, is up in the air. After hearing arguments for and against allowing the testimony, a federal magistrate judge said Wednesday that he would rule later on the question.
Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan's pronouncement came at the end of a 20-minute hearing in Minneapolis in which an attorney for Ventura and an attorney for Taya Kyle, Chris Kyle's widow, argued over whether the expert opinion -- as well as an expert witness who examined photos -- should be admitted as evidence at the civil trial next May.
While some filings in the case and some previous hearings have been rife with acrimony and with what one just called "sniping," Wednesday's hearing was a low-key affair.
And while Boylan and U.S. District Judge Richard Kyle have both chastised Ventura's lawyers in the past for continually referring to their client as "Governor Ventura" -- he's no longer entitled to use the title "governor," the judges say -- the only one who referred to him that way Wednesday was Boylan himself.
He quickly caught his error and corrected himself.
Ventura, the one-term governor and former professional wrestler, sued Chris Kyle last year over an excerpt in his best-selling memoir, "American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History."
Kyle wrote that he decked a mouthy former Navy special forces member in a California bar in 2006. He described the man as "Scruff Face" but didn't name him, but in interviews said he was writing about Ventura.
Ventura said the incident never happened. He sued for defamation, among other claims.
In February, Chris Kyle was shot dead by a former Marine allegedly suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Taya Kyle was substituted as defendant in the civil suit as executor of her late husband's estate.
Ventura claimed the book hurt his reputation and made it harder to get work. The defense asked David Schultz, a professor at Hamline University and frequent political commentator, to assess those claims.
In an October 2012 report, Schultz -- who has taught courses in methods of research -- said he found Kyle's statements "have done little, if anything to hurt Governor Ventura's reputation in politics or in the media or to hurt his income prospects in politics or in the media."
After Kyle's death, Schultz revisited the issue, saying Ventura's decision to continue the suit against the widow could be a significant variable in how people view the former governor's reputation.
His verdict: Ventura's pursuit of the litigation hurt his reputation more than the book did. Schultz wrote a supplemental report, dated Oct. 8, outlining his findings and research methodology.
The only problem: The supplemental report came after a deadline set by the court for submitting what lawyers refer to as "discovery," or evidence in a case. John Borger, an attorney for Taya Kyle, filed a motion asking that the court allow him to introduce Schultz's new report as evidence when the case goes to trial.
He also asked permission to use forensic testimony from an expert who examined photos Ventura said were taken the day after the alleged punch. Ventura maintains the photos show him with no discernible injuries and a jury could use them to conclude Kyle made up his story.
Ventura's lawyers objected to both requests.
"Neither expert would aid the fact-finder on pertinent issues," Court Anderson, a lawyer for Ventura, told Boylan on Wednesday.
"The court was clear," Anderson said. "Discovery is done. It's closed."
Borger argued that court rules allow amending scheduling orders for "good cause," and that there were good reasons to admit Schultz's supplemental report, as well as the expert testimony on the photos.
Both expert reports are "highly relevant and significant for any just resolution" of the case, Borger argued in a brief before the hearing.
Boylan did not say when he would issue is ruling.
David Hanners can be reached at 612-338-6516.