Texas or Minnesota? Lawyers to spar over site of Jesse Ventura defamation trial

  • Article by: RANDY FURST , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 23, 2013 - 11:08 PM

Navy SEAL’s widow wants trial moved to Dallas, near her home.

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Jesse Ventura

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Attorneys for former Gov. Jesse Ventura will tangle Tuesday morning in U.S. District Court with lawyers for the widow of a Navy SEAL whom Ventura is suing for defamation over the man’s book, “American Sniper.”

The hearing in St. Paul is expected to focus on the site of the trial. The widow, Taya Kyle, wants to move the trial to Dallas, near her home, because she is a single mother with two children. The trial could take two weeks or more.

“Her two children need the comfort and stability provided by their mother’s presence,” attorneys Leita Walker and John Borger wrote in a memorandum in August. “Leaving them behind for a two- to three-week trial would disrupt that presence, and bring them to a city where they would lack their support network of family and friends is a poor alternative.”

Ventura’s lawyers, David Olsen, Court J. Anderson and John Bisanz, countered in a memo earlier this month that four days after Taya Kyle said it was too inconvenient for her to attend trial in Minnesota, she voluntarily made a trip to Minneapolis “to speak at a public event marketed as the ‘Patriot Tour.’ In fact the Patriot Tour ran from Aug. 1 through Aug. 17, 2013, and made seven stops in five states.” She also spoke at the National Rifle Association’s annual convention in Houston on May 3 and made several public and media appearances in New York in early June, the lawyers stated.

Taya Kyle’s attorneys respond that her children accompanied her on some of the trips, and “she returned to her children for multiple days between the stops at various cities. … None of those trips involved the multiweek time commitment that would be involved in the trial of this case.”

Taya Kyle oversees the estate of her husband, Chris Kyle, who was killed in an incident in Texas earlier this year. Ventura continued the suit against her, claiming that Chris Kyle, a decorated former SEAL and author of “American Sniper,” defamed him. Ventura, also a former SEAL and pro wrestler, was governor of Minnesota from 1999 to 2003.

In a chapter titled “Punching Out Scruff Face,” Chris Kyle described a confrontation in a Texas bar at a 2006 wake for a SEAL. He wrote that “Scruff Face” made disparaging remarks about the Iraq 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. Ventura sued, alleging 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, the suit claims.

The suit was moving through court when Chris 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.

Ventura’s attorneys also say that moving the trial to Dallas would give Taya Kyle an unfair advantage because Chris Kyle is revered in Texas, where 7,000 turned out for his memorial service. They said it would unfairly draw on a pool of jurors sympathetic to Kyle.

Taya Kyle’s lawyers respond that an unbiased jury can be seated by “proven voir dire techniques” and note that Ventura has his own pool of sympathetic supporters, given that he received 773,713 votes for governor in 1998, “110 times the number of people who attended Chris Kyle’s memorial service.”

Randy Furst • 612-673-4224

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